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carsharing-parking-car2goWith today’s news that the car rental company Avis is buying the car sharing company Zipcar, it got us thinking about car sharing again. Car sharing is a nearly $400 million business in the U.S.,and is particularly popular with city dwellers and college students who don’t own a car and may only need a vehicle for a few hours to go shopping or visit a friend in the suburbs.

Zipcar, with more than 760,000 members, says it’s the largest car-sharing network in the world, and is one of the more famous car sharing models. Zipcar is a membership-based car sharing service that offers an alternative to traditional car rental and car ownership. The program works on reservations, and members can view vehicle availability and reserve a car via telephone, iPhone app, or online. Each reservation entitles members up to 180 miles for each 24-hour period. To become a member of Zipcar, you must be at least 21 years old and have a driver’s license.

Zipcar isn’t the only way to share a car, however. Zipcar falls into the “business to consumer” category of car sharing, where a company owns a fleet of cars and facilitates the sharing between members. Regular car rental services also fall into this category. There is also the not-for-profit/co-op model, which is a local organization or a particular community that facilitates car sharing with the goal of changing driving habits over making a profit. Philly Car Share is a good example of this model. Finally, there’s the peer-to-peer model, which is a fleet of cars is owned by a community. The marketplace matches owners of cars that are available to other drivers to rent. RelayRides, Wheelz, and WhipCar are examples of this. In these programs, if you own your car, you can actually rent it out within your community, and earn money for doing so. For a list of more companies involved in the variety of types of car sharing, this website has a good list.

Traditional business-to-consumer car sharing has been tried with limited success in the GMTMA region; people might remember that Princeton used to have Zipcars, but no longer does. But peer to peer carsharing might be a trend whose time has come. A recent USA Today article notes that ride sharing has gone from being niche and is on its way to becoming mainstream. The article quotes a professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business who projects that within the next three years, peer-to-peer car sharing will be “truly mainstream.”

If you work with a company that might be interested in setting up its own internal car sharing service, WeCar might be worth looking into. WeCar, a car sharing program run by by Enterprise rental cars, provides a totally automated, membership-based transportation solution, whether it is for an hour, a day, a weekend or longer. It’s the service used by Princeton University for its own car sharing program, which is available for students, faculty and staff with a driver’s license to rent a car for a short period of time.

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