Lest anyone be misled that our 10:38 AM comment on Jim’s “Zipcar to Invest…” posting of 30 November was meant to suggest Zipcar should abandon its current market focus, let me be very clear:

We support Zipcar’s current focus. Our 10:38 AM post suggested additional markets, not abandonment of the primary one.

We believe strongly that every Alpha Village scale station-area urban enclave served by a high-capacity, shared-vehicle system (e.g. METRO) should have two or more Zipcar-like services.

Our only problem with Zipcars is any implication that Zipcar-like services alone, without Fundamental Change in human settlement patterns – especially in shared-vehicle station areas, will have a major impact on mobility and access.

As Jim’s post and comment suggest, he and I agree on this. We also agree that the existence of Zipcar-like services will enhance the market for more functional, less private-vehicle exclusive settlement patterns as he notes in a comment.

While we are at it let us also note that in functional Dooryards and Clusters, informal and formal individual-vehicle sharing has been going on since the autonomobile first appeared and existed for horses and bigger buggies before that.

“You are welcome to borrow the Expedition to pick up your family at the Airport.”

“We will be happy to pay for gas and insurance to use your Land Rover to go get a Christmas tree and we will bring you back one too.”

“Why don’t our four families pool our resources and get a “second car” that will serve all of us for special trips and in an emergency?”

As Jim points out higher cost per mile are a catalyst for such discussions.

One final note. The sort of take-home-and-plug-in shared vehicles that Larry suggests do exist. So do many other ways to reduce the area devoted to parking vehicles and making vehicles avaliable to those who need them just when they need them.

You have heard this before:

If the total cost of mobility and access was equitably shared these systems would be part of the America’s way of life and the American Dream instead of being fringe ideas for tree huggers.

Appologists for Business As Usual and those who want to profit from dysfunctional settlement patterns will continue to look for nits to pick.


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  1. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    We talk about govt incentives and disincentives, subsidies and penalties and market forces.

    I would like to point out some similarities and dissimilarities between Zip Cars and Hybrid Cars.

    Some folks may be shocked to find out that not everyone who drives a Hybrid is doing so purely for environmental principles. (I know folks who commute in Hybrids but don’t belong to a single environmental group nor donate to any groups AND are actually opposed to virtually all environmental groups – so their sole claim to being GREEN is that they’ve bought this GREEN car).

    But look a little further as to WHY some folks bought the car …

    First, they get a substantial Fed and State tax break AND they can drive SOLO on HOV lanes.

    So – a good question to ask is WHY the Feds and State grant these substantial incentives – paid for by taxpayers?

    and.. somewhere in that response .. I’m quite sure… “public benefit” appears.

    So, I’d ask.. what would be wrong with doing similiar incentives for Zip Cars?

    (and I’d agree that market place forces are better than subsidies [incentives]).

    but you have to look at what Zip Cars are competing against and .. whether or not they are actually competing against other mobility options that themselves are subsidized and thus make it difficult for Zip cars to be economically viable.

    One of the lesser know aspects of Hybrids is that if the Hybrid gets 50 mpg and travels 15,000 miles a year on NoVa roads..that the owner pays on the order of about $100 a year to use NoVa roads in addition to the other benefits.

    At the same time… NoVa collects 1/2% of the sales tax and devotes it to NoVa roads… so you have ALL taxpayers paying to maintain the road that the Hybrid is using… and we all know … that right now.. not enough money is being collected to do much more than pay for maintenance … very few new projects can be funded.. unless we find additional revenues…

    I know that Ray drives a hybrid.. and this is not intended as an attack on his choice of vehicle.. I simply don’t know his personal circumstances… I do not drive a Hybrid… in part because I usually don’t buy new vehicles until the existing ones croak… and both my wife and my vehicle have about 150K on them.. and still “working”.

    But our next car will likely be “something” more efficient….than 20 mpg.

  2. Ray Hyde Avatar

    I think we will have more shared vehicles when the alternatives become too expensive. That will happen when we are all less well off than we are now. Whether we reach that point where we can’t afford them because of market forces, government intervention, or both, remains to be seen. I have a hard time seeing where the political imperative is to take actions that most people will recognize make them worse off. TMT’s comments here are a case in point.

    I first became interested in Hybrid vehicles thirty years ago, when Popular Mechanix magazine published and article with plans a sources for materials to convert a Ford Falcon into a hybrid vehicle. The concept made instant sense to me and I always wanted to build one, but didn’t because other projects were more important and more profitable.

    When Honda and Toyota came out with their first models my interest was re kindled, but I wanted to wait for the second generation to get some of the kinks out and more improvements in.

    Yes, I drive solo in the car pool lanes (sometimes), and yes, that has been one of the major benefits of the car. But that benefit will soon expire, and I would have bought the car anyway. As it turns out, it is far and away the best small car I have ever owned, and I have always owned small cars. It is quiet comfortable and economical, even including it’s higher initial price.

    Like Larry, I drive my cars until the wheels fall off, then I rebuild them and do it again. I get a new car when the frame rusts out. This is my contribution to recycling, which I beleive should be concentrated on our major assets. It is why I agree with Jim Bacon that redeveloping areas we have used up is so important. However, we should recognize that it is not always the cheapest alternative. I have rebuilt a couple of cars that I later wished I hadn’t.

    In regards economics, the Prius is maybe not the best option. You can buy a conventional small car like the Scion, and have a lower lifetime operating cost, but it isn’t as nice as the Prius. I’ve heard it said that even the Prius would get better mileage, maybe, if it didn’t have to haul around that heavy battery and electric motor. That might be true, but then it would lose much of it’s excellent acceleration capabilities, so everything is a trade off. If I was in Larry’s shoes, I’d be driving the old clunker, too.

    I belong to no conservation agencies, and mostly I don’t support their activities because I think they range from wrongheaded, to uneconomic, to outright radical. I learned to think that way in graduate school where I studied energy management and environmental economics. I also made my living in the environmental field, until I became disillusioned with the process, not to mention the salaries. That was where I became aware that environmentalists seem to have a propensity of wanting or thinking that they can get something for nothing, simply because they think it is the “right” thing to do. I do make contributions to select agencies that operate in ways I can agree with.

    I agree that really efficient cars are not contributing enough to pay for the value of their road use, but I think that is the wrong place to focus our attention. The really heavy users are the heavy truckers, who cause as much as a thousand times as much damage to the roads as small cars. They are the ones who are paying no where near enough to cover their costs.

    The problem with taxing truckers more is that we all depend on truckers services, and therefore taxing them amounts to taxing us. No matter where the money comes from, it comes from us in the end. So the best we can do is make the process of collecting the money as fair as we can and as efficient as we can. I think that tolls mostly flunk the second test, smartcard or not.

    Realistically, the weather does more damage to the roads while waiting fo my car to arrive than the car causes. Even if we drastically reduced raod usage, we would still have to pay to have the roads available. As a consequence, any conservation methods will result in a higher effective tax rate. We would do better with our road investments if we arrange to get the maximum economic use out of them and that means allowing gridlock only up to a certain point.

    How you manage that economically and fairly is another question.

    But since my car is not paying enough, I think that fuel taxes should be raised. That would be an incentive for more people to switch to more efficient cars, which would counteract some of the benefit of higher rates. But it doesn’t change the fact that we ought to pay something that is related to our use. It may well be that the rate may have to be raised again to counteract the effect of more efficient vehicles. You are getting the same value for your trip, and you should expect to pay the same amount in taxes.

    But, in a shred vehicle that is no longer true. The value of your trip is diminished by the cost of convenience and co-ordinating activites. The best shared vehicle systems minimize those problems, and the best example is the taxicab, which is the one system that operates at a profit, and is more or less free to operate in any area the operator chooses to start up business.

    If the government is going to diminish their costs, by making our lives more difficult and expensive, then either the government is going to have to be prepared to show some real cost savings in taxes, or expect to pay the political consequences. I don’t think that shared vehicles will really reduce our tax costs by a measurable amount any time soon.

  3. Ray Hyde Avatar

    Yesterday’s Post pointed out what may well become a Fundamental Change in human settlement patterns – caused by a lack of available insurance in coastal areas.

    According to the article, one insurance company has already stopped writing insurance in five boroughs of New York because wall street could be flooded with fifteen feet of water in the case of an Andrew or Katrina event.

    Large sections of coastal areas may be lost to development because of lack of available insurance. Only if you can afford to self insure will you be able to have beach front property. Beach shacks instead of beach mansions will become the norm.

    This is a development that is long overdue, and it will prevent development in places where it should never have occurred to begin with.

  4. NoVA Scout Avatar
    NoVA Scout

    I am an occasional Zipcar user when I work at my DC Office. MOre often than not I either take the Metro or ride my bicycle from Vienna to downtown DC. This leads to occasions when I need a car for a couple of hours and have to rely on either taxis or Zipcar. Fortunately there is a Zipcar lot near my office and the on-line booking arrangements could not be easier. I suppose my only complaint is price. Apparently Zipcar thinks it necessary to have “cute” cars to attract users. The cost could be driven down by a unitary fleet of the lowest grade Toyotas or Ford Focuses (Foci?), but the stable is full of a polyglot collection of Minis, small Volvos, Scions etc. Maybe this does attract a young crowd, but they might puff up their margins while lowering the price by going with something basic, interchangeable and easy to maintain. All-in-all, however, it seems to work pretty well.

  5. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    NoVA Scout:

    How does the cost for zip cars .. compare to taxi .. or Metro?

    what criteria do you use to select a Zip Car over other modes?


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