Is the Avis / ZipCar Acquisition Green?

I am selling my little Honda in California, since I moved to Texas two years ago, I left a car in San Francisco to drive when I’m here.

So I’d been looking into getting car share.  Absolutely loving the concept, been trying to figure out if it is a better deal for me than renting when I come out.

So when Avis dropped half a billion dollars on ZipCar, I was pretty intrigued.  Which raised the question, does this count as a cleantech or green exit?

I mean, I’ve rejected the “IT services instead of flying argument” making web conferencing services a product green, something I used to get emails on from marketers all the time.

Zipcar’s a little like that.  Are fewer miles actually driven?  Less gas used?

How about fewer cars bought?  Is Zipcar actually replacing cars?  Or adding cars and increasing miles driven by bringing new drivers into the fleet, or making some time drivers into more of the time drivers and reducing public transit use?  I’m not sure that car rentals like Avis don’t increase the number of vehicles and maybe even miles per person in the US.

When does efficiency and better shared services instead of capital expenditures become green, and not just a good deal?

Car Sharing and Saving in a Tough Economy

By John Addison. American’s rise to tough challenges. This recession is hitting people hard. Transportation is 20 percent, or more, of many people’s expenses. American’s are finding smart ways to save. Public transportation use is at its highest in over 50 years. Commute program participation is breaking records. Americans drove 100 billion fewer miles in 2008 than the previous year.

A study by the American Automobile Association (AAA) shows that the average cost of owning and operating a passenger vehicle is 54.1 cents per mile. This is over $8,000 per year per vehicle, based on 15,000 miles of driving. Depreciation is part of that cost. Anyone who has bought a car for $20,000 and later sold it for $5,000 understands depreciation. Fuel, maintenance, tolls, parking, financing, and insurance add up. Most U.S. households have two vehicles, costing them over $16,000 per year.

The opportunity to save on transportation costs depends on many factors: living in the city or suburbs, household size, number of kids, type of work, and feasibility of car sharing.

A friend of mine is getting hit hard with vehicle costs and by being in an industry that is in a downward spiral. He and his wife are refinancing the home to stay above water. Their family of five includes four vehicles – primarily SUVs and a pick-up truck. When their youngest turns 16 this year, my friend is planning to get his son his own car. Vehicle number 5. At first glance, it looks like they have no other choice. Like most suburbs, frequent public transit is not in walking distance. Everyone is busy with work, school, sports, and community activity.

A closer look shows that this family could save over $10,000 per year. The three teenagers/young adults could share one or two vehicles. They live two-miles from a main street where public transit is reasonably frequent. All are great athletes who could bike to and from transit. Transit includes express buses during morning and evening commute hours that connect to a major downtown, other transit systems, rail, colleges, and more.

No one likes to deal with conflicts with teenagers and vehicle sharing is sure to create some conflict, yet communication and conflict resolution are important lessons for teenagers to learn. Family members might surprise you in creating sharing solutions that work, especially when bike and transit options are there. Taking the bus or biking to and from high school is not the end of the world. A young adult that insists on having their own vehicle can take the responsibility of working part time to pay for the vehicle, insurance, and fuel.

For years, Mark and Lisa Williams shared one vehicle. Both Mark and Lisa commuted during similar work hours from Elk Groove to Sacramento. They rode to work together. By riding together they saved up to an hour daily by using the HOV lane for vehicles with two or more passengers.

They also saved the $1,740 per year that would be necessary to pay for two Sacramento parking spaces instead of one. Mark and Lisa were not always able to commute together. When their jobs were miles apart, Lisa would take Mark to the nearby light rail that transported him to Sacramento. The Williams, including their son, never ceased to find irony as the three of them in one vehicle drove past the three vehicles parked in the driveway of a single neighbor.

When their teenage son approached driving age, the Williams bought a second vehicle, a Toyota Prius. Most of the time, the three rode together, leaving their SUV in the garage. When someone was going in an opposite direction, then the second vehicle is used. After seven months, they we’re using the SUV so little that they could not justify the cost of keeping it. They are back to a one-car family which works for the three of them. On rare occasions, the SUV is missed. Mark says, “It does require some compromises, like borrowing a vehicle when we want to use our kayaks, but it is well worth it, and will only become more so as gas prices slowly start climbing again.”

When I talk with people aged 14 to 30, I am surprised by how many do not want a car. My niece Lindsay Short was given the family’s 2001 Prius when she graduated high school with honors. She leaves the car with her parents and lives car free at the university. Like many universities, anything is faster going from class to class than trying to drive and search for the impossible parking space. On campus transit, bicycling, and walking work best. When cars are needed, car sharing services such as Zipcar, offer qualified students aged 18 and older, vehicles by the hour. What many students need is a monthly allowance that is a fraction of the cost of car ownership, so that they can pay for car sharing, public transportation, and trips home to see family. As an environmentalist, Lindsay wants to be true to her values.

You do not need to be in school to make a difference. For everyone, from those who live alone, to roommates, to families, transportation costs can be cut with flexwork, commute programs, public transit, and car sharing.

During his February 24 Address to Joint Session of Congress, President Obama stated, “The only way this century will be another American century is if we confront at last the price of our dependence on oil… That is our responsibility.”

Millions of Americans are responding to the current challenge of being financially secure; they are also addressing the need to provide their children with a future that is energy secure and climate secure. People are riding clean, riding together, and riding less.

John Addison is the author of Save Gas, Save the Planet.

People-Oriented Development

By John Addison. Enlightened communities are in the transition from being car-centric to being people-centric. Homes, public transportation, and businesses that serve neighborhoods are designed in close proximity. A people-oriented development often has a rapid transit station at its center, or at least a bus stop that is frequently served. Nearest to the station are higher density apartments and condos. Streets are alive with people and convenient shops. A short walk from the station is less density and single family homes. Walking is the easiest way to get around.
While the sprawl of many cities forces long commutes, there are three United States cities where at least 30 percent of employment is within 3 miles of the central business district: New York, San Francisco, and Portland. In these cities, people find it easy to take light rail or buses between work and home. A surprising number walk. For those that drive, they save by traveling fewer miles.
As David Niebauer pointed out in his article about REDD, deforestation is a major contributor of GHG. Suburban sprawl leads to deforestation and to loss of land needed for agriculture.
In California, there is a strong interest in integrating transportation planning, regional development, and climate solution planning. Last week, 240 leaders of government, private industry, and non-profit leaders converged at CALSTART’s Target 2030 conference. Vehicles, fuels, and transportation planning were themes for many speakers and discussions.
Shelley Poticha, CEO of Reconnecting America, sited the statistic that if someone can walk to transit, they are 5 times more likely to use public transit and only drive half the miles of those who cannot walk to transit. Reconnecting America works with real estate developers and transit agencies to develop more housing within walking distance from transit, services, and shopping.
Mary Nichols, Chairwoman, California Air Resources Board, took center stage as a key executive in implementing California’s Climate Solutions law – one of the world’s most comprehensive approaches to reducing global warming. Some of the implementations are complex, such as the low carbon fuel standard. Other solutions are more straightforward. She observed that California could reduce its petroleum consumption by 5 percent if everyone walked an extra half-mile daily instead of covering the distance in a car.
Some cities with intelligent urban planning make it easy for people to live near work, friends, and fun. Portland has limited the boundaries of the city and invested in rapid transit. The results are impressive. The citizens of Portland save $2.6 billion per year, estimates economist Joe Cortright, Senior Fellow with The Brookings Institute.
Learning from the success of cities such as Portland, California passed a law (SB 375) requiring regions to develop integrated urban and transportation plans that reduce long commutes and reduce regional greenhouse gas emissions.
Michael McKeever, Executive Director, Sacramento Area Council of Governments, identified a major opportunity for Boomers who want smaller homes with more community services. Fifty percent of new California home sales could be for this target market.
Baby Boomers, specifically 78 million Americans born between 1946 and 1964, are starting to shift to work that requires less travel and provides more fulfillment. Some will retire in the next few years; most will reinvent how they live and earn money. Millions of these Boomers will accelerate the shift to new urbanization as they move from the suburbs to cities. Freed from the demands of needing individual cars for long daily commutes to work, they will discover that it is easier to live “car-light” or car free in a city.
New urban development could create millions of jobs in construction, public transportation, and infrastructure. Making it a reality is not easy. California is facing a $40 billion budget deficit, creating tough choices such as new gasoline or sales tax, or major cuts in education, health care, and emergency services. The 480 cities which need to plan for the future lack funds for comprehensive planning. More urban density requires infrastructure upgrades from sewer pipes to reliable electric grids.
City living is not for everyone. Many prefer to raise families in the suburbs with their dream homes inside gated communities and their jobs located miles away. In the suburbs, the environmentally conscious share rides in hybrid vehicles, work at home at least a day per week, and are clever about letting their fingers do the walking. Others enjoy rural living near communities oriented around farming, ranching, mountains, and water.
Sixty-five percent of Americans live in the top 100 metropolitan areas. In cities, millions find work and play convenient. Some estimate that two-thirds of the urban areas that will exist in 2030 do not exist today. This gives us an incredible opportunity to develop in a sustainable way with near-zero emission transportation.
As I interviewed countless people, gathering their stories and ideas for Save Gas, Save the Planet, urbanites delivered a consistent message – people living in cities burn less gas and cause less global warming than those living in suburbs and rural areas. In cities, trips to grocery stores, friends, and work are often done by walking. Light rail and bus service is predictable and fast in cities. In cities, everything is closer together.

Copyright © 2009 John Addison. This article includes excerpts from John’s new book – Save Gas, Save the Planet – to be published on March 25, 2009. John Addison publishes the Clean Fleet Report. Last year, John and his wife moved from suburbia to the city, living 2 blocks from public transportation, now John’s primary mode of travel.