Reporting on pedestrian life in the D.C. area

A tenth of America's car-sharing market lives in the D.C. region

May 16, 2012 - 10:39 AM
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(Photo: Heather Farrell)

The RAND Corporation has released a report on environment, energy, and the economy that touches on the possibilities and challenges of the car-sharing market, which has grown considerably over the last decade with the rise of Zipcar and locally the recent entry of Car2Go and Hertz On Demand. The document is full of good stats and figures. Multiple surveys, for instance, estimate that drivers who car-share rather than personally own an automobile save between $154 and $435 a month. Yet the report also reminds us that car-sharing, as common as it's begun to seem in the District, has no "proven business model," with even global giant Zipcar turning a profit for the first time last November. Car-sharing not only competes with personal ownership, of course, but also with public transportation of services like WMATA rail, bus, and the D.C. Circulator. Is car-sharing affordable enough to justify that over the Metro?

In D.C., many would say the answer is yes.

Conservative estimates about our region's Zipcar membership suggest at least 60,000 as of last year. Zipcar has aggressively marketed itself out to residents since then, with street teams at Chinatown Coffee Company and elsewhere, advertisements, and other deals. The District also acquired Car2Go and Hertz On Demand since. Our region's overall car-sharing membership is probably closer to 70,000, I'd guess, at the least, but even if we still only have 60,000 car-sharers in the region, we amount to about a tenth of the nation's car-sharing market based on the national figures RAND includes.

The United States is now host to about 560,000 car-sharers, according to the RAND report, which represent about 0.27% of all U.S. drivers. That's still a very small number but what struck me was how concentrated the membership must be. The membership is centered in a few big urban spots like D.C., where at least 10% or so of the membership resides. Zipcar continues to reign supreme in the car-sharing world, and as of late March, touted 673,000 members globally, many of whom live in the U.S. Zipcar first entered the D.C. region back in 2001 and for many years, provided the only car-sharing option available.

The report's data also outlines the amount of greenhouse gas that car-sharing prevents, numbers that Wonkblog calls "fairly meager." Today's reduction is only 0.05% and even dream scenarios of car-sharing — with more than 12% of urban drivers participating — only drops the percentage of greenhouse gases by 1.7%.

Favorably considered was Car2Go's point-to-point model, which the report noted was untested but seemed to have potential. That car-sharing company recently paid the District more than half a million dollars for the privilege of parking freedom here. These innovations may prove critical to expanding the car-sharing appeal to new markets.

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