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Car-sharing creeps into Providence

While proponents of communal bikes have long extolled the virtue of sharing an easy set of wheels, Zipcar has applied the concept ó for a cost ó to the automotive age.

The national car-sharing service finalized a deal with Brown University a few months back to expand into Rhode Island, beginning with two cars on College Hill. Zipcar is being offered only to students and university affiliates for now, and it has no immediate plans to extend service into other parts of Rhode Island. But if the pilot program proves popular, it could be a jumping-off point. "Itís our hope that having these two cars on Brownís campus will move things along and create interest in local communities," says Adam Brophy, Zipcarís regional sales director.

Founded in 1999, Zipcar says itís gaining 2500 new members per month, with cars located in 29 cities, from Boston and Washington, DC, to San Francisco.

Anyone over 21 who passes a safe driving record can join Zipcar if they pay an application charge and annual fee totaling approximately $75. An hourly rental charge of roughly $9 includes parking, gas, and insurance. Spokesman Matthew Malloy argues that for city residents, Zipcar offers a cheaper option to car ownership, especially with the cost of insurance, gas, maintenance, and parking. Zipcar also promotes itself as an environmentally friendly transportation alternative, offering a more efficient use of cars and space.

The usefulness of this can be seen in how 45 percent of all the smog in Rhode Island, according to the state chapter of the Sierra Club, comes from trucks and cars. Yet some observers are skeptical about Zipcarís potential impact. Sheila Dormody of the New England Climate Coalition points to the need for alternate solutions, such as strategic reinvestment in RIPTA and more stringent CO2 standards for vehicles. "The initiatives that I would like to see about moving large numbers of people from one place to another donít necessarily include the idea of individual people riding in individual cars," says Dormody, "which is what Zipcar sounds like to me."

Zipcar claims that one of its cars, if well used, takes 20 personal vehicles off the road, and that the benefits donít stop there. "People who car-share actually use public transportation more," says Malloy. "They walk more, they bike more. Zipcarís not an Ďor.í Itís an Ďand.í "

Tell that to the masses. One thingís for certain: with surging gas prices, heavy smog, and RIPTAís cyclical instability, Rhode Islanders will either face more stagnation or push for substantive change. And if it comes to the latter, car-sharing could be the next big thing.

Issue Date: January 13 - 19, 2006
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