Car Sharing Programs Grow and Go Green

More car sharing businesses are making alternative energy vehicles a part of their fleets. As the technology gets better, customers of car sharing services are able to drive the eco-friendly cars they have been waiting for.

Hourly rentals of electric, biodiesel, natural gas and ethanol powered cars will be available from a San Luis Obispo, California company beginning next week. In August, car share participants in Baltimore can rent a four-passenger electric car that is able to go 120 miles on one charge.

"There will be more cities this year with electric vehicles," Zipcar CEO Scott Griffith says.

Zipcar is the largest car sharing service in the United States. They now maintain a fleet of 6,500 that is now 15% alternative fuel-powered. Car sharing members pay an annual fee to rent cars by the hour, picking them up from convenient neighborhood locations. This offers most of the convenience of owning a car without the hassles of maintenance, parking and other costs.

Zipcar has plug-in hybrids available in San Francisco, where charging stations are available at City Hall.

With more and more people needing and wanting to spend less on transportation, the numbers of car sharing participants is growing quickly and Griffith reports that 80% of his customers want to drive electric cars.

Mark Shaffer is the founder of Fun Ride in San Luis Obispo. He believes climate change and the current economic recession are reasons that many people are interested in sharing cars rather than owning them.

Susan Shaheen of the Transportation Sustainability Research Center at the University of California at Berkeley says that 214 people participated in car sharing in 1999. She says that the number for this year has grown to 309,437.

As for rental price, hybrids go for $7 per hour from Zipcar. Conventional cars are $9 an hour and up. Hybrids are now more affordable and available, and they retain their value better than their conventional counterparts. This makes the vehicles a smart choice for car sharing businesses who want to take care of the environment while keeping costs down for customers and themselves.

The Maryland Science Center in Baltimore is offering free test drives of its electric vehicle, the Maya, which Altcar will make available for rent in August.

The trend seems to be more car sharing businesses popping up in more urban areas. Major rental companies such as Hertz are also getting in on the action. Their program, Hertz Connect, began in London, New York City and Paris.

Hertz Connect is adding twenty cities this year to compete with Zipcar’s dominance of the car sharing market.

Although hybrids and other alternative fuel cars tax the environment less than conventional cars, they still may pose a problem in the urban areas where they are becoming increasingly popular.

Hybrid or not, cars take up space on streets, highways and parking lots. There is some concern that people who bike or ride public transportation will eventually be encouraged to use services like Connect or Zipcar, which may add more cars to already crowded urban areas.

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