City to award car-sharing contract

BY ALY BROWN | JULY 10, 2012 6:30 AM

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University of Iowa students and Iowa City residents without cars may soon be able to get around town with a car-sharing service sweeping Big Ten university towns.

The Iowa City City Council will vote today to award a contract to one of two car-sharing services — the likely option being ZipCar — to provide cars on- and off-campus. The city partnered with the university after the two considered separate car-sharing programs.

Chris O'Brien, the director of city transportation services, could not comment on the winning bidder, user rates, use terms, or number of cars provided until the contract is final.

"We're still working out the details and haven't signed off on any contracts," he said. "But we are shooting for operating in early fall."

Car-sharing services such as ZipCar's university program allow users 18 and up to rent cars for a roughly $8 hourly fee, plus a $25 yearly membership for faculty, university staff, and students.

O'Brien said the city has been considering car-sharing services on and off, but upfront costs in early service models prohibited the city from moving forward in the past.

Jim Sayre, UI parking and transportation associate director, said though the university has been considering the service for several years, officials waited until it became cost-effective.

"We waited until it made sense financially," he said. "In early models, companies charged the city, university, or organization X amount of dollars, or would say, 'You buy the cars, we'll handle the membership base.' We both agreed now is the time."

Sayre said the university and city have had similar roles in examining contract languages, and both have been active in planning stages.

Kelsey Zlevor, UI Student Government sustainability liaison, said she pursued establishing car-sharing services at the university in the past but is excited to see the program come to fruition now.

"I was very interested, and whoever I talked to was really receptive," she said. "They all said they were trying to get something done."

If the contract is awarded to ZipCar, the UI will be the second-to-last Big Ten school to establish the service on campus, leaving University of Nebraska-Lincoln — officials there decided against it in 2011. Ohio State University canceled its contract with ZipCar in 2009 after choosing Hertz's competing program, Connect by Hertz.

Lindsey Lossing, a representative at the University of Michigan parking and transportation services, said ZipCar has had tremendous success on campus since its 2006 inception.

"It has taken awhile, but it has slowly grown," she said. "But it has been very successful. We are completely full up."

ZipCar serves both faculty and students and offers faculty and staff discounts, she said.

"The faculty use it a lot," she said. "The faculty and student programs are split, but the students are definitely using it more."

Lossing said the program costs the university nothing, and the school provides only parking spaces. The school started with two cars and now has 22.

UI junior Kuper Bergman said he does not own a car and would be interested in the program depending on the usage fees.

"I'd be interested in using it primarily to get to other nearby towns and places in the Coralville area that I couldn't get to before," he said.

Bergman said it is frustrating getting to class daily from his off-campus apartment without a car.

Zlevor said the service would benefit students, residents, and the environment by reducing congestion in Iowa City.

"Obviously, it's awesome, and I think there is an interest, too," she said. "It will limit, in a good way, the number of cars on campus to free up parking. It will be interesting to see after the program starts to see if there is reduction of pollution or a measurable impact."

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