Posted by: Francis Koster Published: March 26, 2011

Zipcar Rentals Save Money, and Cut Fuel and Pollution


Zipcar Rentals Save Money, and Cut Fuel and Pollution

FastFleet by Zipcar offers cost-effective vehicle sharing options for government fleets

by Bethany Nuckolls

“Time share” half hour rental of vehicles results in savings to businesses and government using the Zipcar model.

The idea behind the company is investment in sharing vehicles rather than owning is growing in popularity.  Zipcar uses a wireless network that uses the internet to connect an available fleet of cars to card-holding members. 

Via a device called the Zipcar M200 installed in each rental car, renters can use their membership cards to unlock the doors of any Zipcar vehicle not reserved and activate the keys inside.[i]  They can also use a newly available Mac app to locate, reserve, and unlock a car, all from a touch of an iPhone screen.


The current membership of over 500,000 registered drivers is a significant increase from 6,000 when the company was founded nearly a decade ago.  Interestingly, the greatest increase occurred in the midst of the country’s current economic recession.[ii]   This usage is fostered by centralizing the Zipcar fleet in marketable locations, increasing the likelihood of vehicle availability in those areas while focusing on local, rather than regional, clientele.[iii] 

As this strategy increased the company’s profits, Zipcar was able to expand in innovative ways.  Even as new cars sit idle in dealership lots, Zipcar has extended its shared rental car program to students and faculty on university campuses, to bicyclists and tourists by offering bike racks and free state park passes to renters, and to government fleet services through a relatively new program expansion of Zipcar known as FastFleet. In 2009, Zipcar operated mostly in big urban areas, in 13 major cities and 120 university campuses.



 Zipcar Video


Membership costs $25.00 to join, and requires an annual fee of $50.  The cost of the hourly rental fee (depending on the car model, drive from $8 /hour and $66 /day (any 24-hour period) during the week and $9 /hour and $72 /day on weekends.

Gas, insurance and 180 FREE miles * are included.includes gas, insurance, and a distance of up to 180 miles per day.  Insurance consists of Personal Injury Protection and maximum coverage of $300,000 per accident for all drivers ages 21 and up. 

Gas cards are provided for all vehicles, and are located in a small holder in the driver’s visor.  All rental cars are cleaned regularly by staff, but customers are responsible for topping off the gas tank for the next driver.

The sheer convenience factor may be Zipcar’s main appeal for many, but its secure sharing program technology offers an opportunity for business managers, such as the staff of the Department of Public Works in Washington, D.C. which implements a shared motor pool fleet.  In April of 2009, the city of Washington, D.C. launched its new FastFleet program, with savings for that year expected to reach one million dollars.[iv]  Not only were these projections reportedly met, but the government is also able to sustain the low cost aspect of the fleet share program while maintaining a smaller city fleet (a 25% decrease in fleet size) that is available to more employees.[v]  Furthermore, according to the Director of the District Department of the Environment, smaller and newer fleets help to minimize air and water pollution.[vi] 

Fleet maintenance for the District of Columbia is billed by FastFleet at a contract rate per vehicle for the installation of the wireless security devices and online management services, and in turn the city departments that use the vehicles are billed for their usage.  Currently, there are 42 D.C. government agencies that have access to the shared fleet.[vii]  The vehicles are all purchased and owned by the city, and consist mostly of unspecialized, standard sedans and other light fleet.[viii]

Due to the program’s relatively new implementation, not all expenses can be factored in, but certain costs are expected to rise.  For example, a smaller fleet with a larger consumer pool and increased rate of use brings about more frequent repairs and shorter lifespan of the vehicles.[ix]  A publicity representative for the city of Washington, D.C. explained that the shared fleet was indeed receiving more use than unspecialized department-dedicated vehicles due to the advantage of paying a variable usage-based fee rather than a static monthly amount.  Fuel charges are also usage-based through the use of Ward Automated Fueling Management Systems, allowing management to easily assess the costs and usage of government vehicles.[x]

Motor pool fleets are employed successfully by many state agencies across the U.S., including the state of North Carolina.  Shared fleet programs are also used by many universities, including MIT, Columbia, Harvard University, University of North Carolina, and North Carolina State University.[xi]


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[vi] Comment 4, ibid.

[vii] Personal communication [March 9, 2011] District of Columbia Department of Public Works.


[ix] Personal communication [March 12, 2011] Concord City Fleet.

[x] Comment 7, ibid.


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