College brings car share program to campus

Photo by Juliana Gutierrez

Zipcars are coming to Swarthmore this semester amid other changes to transportation policies.  Zipcar is a car share program that enables registered members to reserve cars online. The cars must be returned to their reserved parking spot in Benjamin West parking lot once the reservation time is up. The two cars currently available at Swarthmore are a Ford Focus and a hybrid Ford C-max.

The program costs are set by Zipcar, and the college does nothing more than provide two parking spaces.  This year, Swarthmore College members can join for $25, with rates for Zipcar vehicles on campus starting at $7.50 per hour and $69 per day. After the first year, members will pay an annual membership fee of $35. Gas, insurance, and up to 180 miles of driving per day are included in Zipcar rates, and cars can be reserved for an hour or up to multiple days.

Laura Cacho, the recently appointed Director of Sustainability is one of the people involved in getting Zipcars to campus after having used car share programs with success herself.

“One of my primary responsibilities as the Director of Sustainability is to help reduce the College’s carbon emissions, and emissions from transportation are particularly challenging to reduce in a suburban location like Swarthmore,” she said. “The reality is that a car is often necessary to get to locations off-campus. Carsharing provides a viable means for students, staff and faculty who can leave their car at home (or put off buying one) to do so with the comfort of knowing that a car will be available if they need to run an errand or to attend a meeting or event off-campus.”

The college decided to partner with Zipcar for a number of reasons, including its large number of vehicles, over 10,000, and its age eligibility requirements.

“All students 18 years and older can use the College’s Zipcars, and members age 21 and over can use Zipcars anywhere they are available; this means that community members that meet this age requirement could use a Zipcar while travelling, which might be particularly useful for staff in Admissions or Development who travel frequently,” she said. “Zipcar also probably has the best technology on the market for car sharing, including a great mobile app.”

Some students are skeptical that two Zipcars will aptly serve the college’s large community but Zipcar is open to the possibility of adding more vehicles if they feel the demand is high enough. There is currently no defined time limit or member limit on the program.

“Our brand promise is “wheels when you want them” for our members. In keeping with this, we ensure to add additional vehicles based on consistently monitored utilization and reservation rate so a Zipcar is there to meet the needs of students, faculty, staff and community members,” CJ Himberg, a representative of Zipcar, said over email.

While the Zipcar program offers a new way to get outside of the Swat bubble, Dean of Housing Rachel Head, believes that previous transportation policies such as those involving the shuttles and the SEPTA ticket program need to be reevaluated.

“Transportation, in particular student transportation, is an area of concern for the Office of Student Engagement and we are looking into a number of different ideas. The shuttles[Target, Media and movie] meet a need, but I do wonder if we could meet that same need in a better way,” she said. “Perhaps we should focus on expanding the SEPTA ticket program, so that more students can access the city. Or, one idea that has been discussed, is to rotate the shuttles in a different way and do a better job of supporting student group needs for transportation.”

Amongst other transportation policies, Cacho is also investigating whether a vanpool or ridesharing program would work for some staff and faculty at the College and is interested in expanding the Bike Share program depending on student interest.

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