New transportation option aimed at UI, Iowa City

Zipcar allows users to rent vehicles for as little as one hour and up to four days

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March 31, 2014 | 11:22 pm

IOWA CITY - University of Iowa and Iowa City officials hope a new car-sharing program will ease car congestion and reduce parking demand on and around campus.

The Zipcar program was officially launched at the UI Wednesday, a joint initiative between the university and Iowa City. The program starts with 10 cars available for short-term rental, with the possibility of more cars being added if demand grows.

The initial obvious consumer market is students, officials said, but they hope UI faculty and staff members and community members eventually will be regular Zipcar users.

"University of Iowa's specific interest was how it might reduce parking demand for faculty and staff," Dave Ricketts, director of UI parking and transportation, said. "That's a real challenge on this campus."

The 10 cars will be parked in designated spots around campus and in downtown Iowa City; the spots are where they are always picked up and returned. Rental rates start at $7 an hour and $66 per day, with rates varying depending on car model. Members reserve the car of their choice online or via a mobile phone app for a certain time, then use a personalized Zipcar swipe card to gain entry to the car.

The cars can be reserved for a minimum of one hour or a maximum of four days, and the rental fee covers gas, insurance and 180 miles of driving per day.

"We hope to see that reduce the demand for students bringing cars back to campus or bringing cars to campus in the first place, and really help the community members to be able to live car-free if they choose to," Bill Connolly, a Zipcar representative, said. "From the member experience, the whole system is based on being totally self-sufficient."

Research from other cities where the program operates shows that each Zipcar takes about 15 personal vehicles off the road, by giving people access to cars specifically when they need them, Connolly said. The car-sharing service also can reduce members' driving habits, spurring them to avoid wasteful trips since they have to purposefully think about getting the car to drive somewhere, he said.

Iowa City is already a walkable city with good public transportation options, Connolly said. Zipcar adds another option for when users need to go a bit farther, take a weekend trip or run an errand to haul larger items, he said.

The Zipcar program is in more than 250 college towns around the country, in varying sized markets.

"The gap we're trying to fill here is incremental use, not the take-it-for-a-week" user, Chris O'Brien, Iowa City director of transportation services, said.

The three-year agreement does not have a financial cost for the UI or the city, other than staff time spent on the program, officials said. Zipcar pays the UI and the city to rent the spaces for the cars.

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