Southeast Michigan isn’t exactly known for its stellar public transportation. Yet between walking, biking and the free use of AATA buses with the flash of an M-Card, many students in Ann Arbor can function fine without a car. But for those who bring cars to campus to make the occasional trip to the grocery store or to an event out of town – car-sharing is a perfect alternative.
Zipcar, an hourly rental car service, recently teamed up with the University to offer discount short-term rentals to the University community. Car-sharing efforts like Zipcar can provide University students with a practical and cheaper alternative to bringing a car to Ann Arbor.
Zipcar is currently being test-driven in the community, offering six cars in an attempt to gauge the amount of demand for a short-term rental service here in Ann Arbor. After a $30 sign-up fee, students pay $8 an hour or $60 a day to rent a car – gas is included. Everything is done online, and the cars are stored on University lots near campus. Compared with the cost of maintenance and parking, it’s a bargain, especially if students carpool. Not only students stand to gain from this partnership: As more students go car-free, it will reduce demand for already scarce parking spaces, even if only marginally in the short term.
Zipcar has been successful in several cities, and the company has already established partnerships with at least 19 universities. However, Zipcar’s market would expand significantly if car-sharing was available to all students. Currently, only drivers at least 21 years old can join Zipcar. This requirement eliminates a large group of potential customers, namely underclassmen drivers and dorm dwellers who might benefit most from car-sharing. As students who participate in efforts like The Detroit Project might know, the University allows students who are 18 years old to drive the school’s vehicles. Both the University and Zipcar could benefit from finding a way to relax this age restriction, and students should pressure both parties to do so.
Keeping a car in Ann Arbor can be inconvenient and expensive, but there are times when public transportation or borrowing a friend’s car won’t do. The partnership with Zipcar offers can fill in the gaps in AATA service, enabling more students to get by without a car. Unfortunately, by the time most students are old enough to use a Zipcar, chances are much greater they’re already accustomed to having their own car around.