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Drew Dowdell

Has car sharing reached critical mass?

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BOSTON - Zipcar is acquiring rival car-sharing service Flexcar in a bid to head off emerging competition from traditional rental car firms that have been adding outlets in urban neighborhoods....

Zipcar, based in Cambridge, Mass., offers 3,500 cars in more than 35 markets in the United States, Europe and Canada — most of them U.S. college campuses — and has more than 120,000 members. Washington D.C.-based Flexcar is smaller, with about 1,500 cars in 15 U.S. markets and 50,000 members.

Zipcar has managed to turn profits in major cities where it's been operating a couple years or more. The costs of acquiring cars and parking spots as well as signing up members make new markets initially unprofitable.

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From my personal experience, I love this service. I have two Civic hybrids parked outside the building I work in downtown. A minicooper, solara convertible and Tacoma are just 3 blocks walk. I use the Civics 4-8 times a month for about 2 hours each trip. I've taken the Mini out once, you may have read my review on that.

From a car enthusiast's perspective this can also be a good thing. Even in Pittsburgh with our fairly craptastic public transit system, it is realistically possible to now live in the suburbs without owning a car. How that's a good thing for car enthusiasts is this. Now you don't need a daily driver in addition to your "baby" in the garage. Once loan/insurance/maintenance payments are freed up from the daily driver, that is more money that can be put towards your collectible. Also, if your collectible is having one of those weeks where it just doesn't want to run right, you're not stranded at home with no transportation.

For me being a skier, I can take the bus over and grab a Subaru Impreza wagon and spin down to the slopes for an evening of night skiing. You have the choice of any kind of car to suit your needs. It also travels with you when you travel. I can go to DC or Boston or Philly and have a car if I need one on the spot. No more Enterprise rentals.

Flexcar greatly underestimated the demand for such a service here in Pittsburgh. They started here almost reluctantly after the city offered them parking spaces and some long term usage contracts. Now, they are adding cars all over the city... 2-4 a week by my observations.

Neither company uses many domestic vehicles, but the variety is such that I can't get too upset about it.

I hope with this merger the car sharing system continues to grow nationwide.

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Car sharing is a great idea, and I'd definitely use it in a city with less urban sprawl.

But even within suburban L.A., I can see it working in gated or condominium communities.

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I get it, but the idea just turns me off.

Yes, I understand the logic.

See, I'm promoting it from a car enthusiasts point of view. You don't live in an area that is suitable for car sharing, however I do. Car sharing will allow me to buy an old car while not having the worry of being stranded if the car is stuck in the driveway and not running and also no longer have the need for a "daily driver" backup car. It will also allow me to sell the Avalanche which mostly sits in my driveway since I can just pickup a Flexcar truck for the 4 times a month that I need a truck.

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