Zipcar to renew Providence contract, add three new spots

Zipcar says it offers green, affordable transportation, but citizens concerned about costs to city

Metro Editor
Thursday, March 20, 2014

Zipcar is negotiating the terms of a new agreement with Providence to extend the company’s contract for an additional three years.

While the original contract expired in January, current negotiations would extend the city’s agreement with Zipcar into 2017. Under Zipcar’s proposal, the city would provide the company with three additional parking spaces for its vehicles for a total of 13, and the company will waive its annual membership for 40 city employees who join the car rental service, according to the agreement.

The measure is under consideration by the City Council Ways and Means Commission and drove discussion at the committee’s meeting March 18, the Providence Journal reported. The committee will likely discuss the agreement further at its meeting next week, said CJ Himberg, Zipcar communications and social media coordinator.

Zipcar sent the proposed contract to the council in January and the agreement has been discussed at February and March committee meetings, the Journal reported.

Some of the benefits a car-sharing service like Zipcar brings to cities like Providence include individual savings on car costs, reduced traffic and environmental sustainability, Himberg said. The annual fee for Providence residents  is currently $60.

The company pays for the upkeep of its vehicles but will negotiate the location of the new parking spaces with the city, Himberg said. The city and the company will also work together as part of their partnership to make sure there is appropriate signage so non-Zipcar members do not park in Zipcar spots, she added. The city would help maintain the parking spots, especially in the event of inclement weather, according to the proposal.

Zipcar relies on colleges and universities for a large part of its business, with partnerships at institutions including Brown, the Rhode Island School of Design and Johnson and Wales. The University launched its program with Zipcar in October 2005, The Herald reported at the time.

Zipcar lowered the minimum age for students to rent a car from 21 to 18 years old in 2009. This provision does not apply to non-college students who are residents of Providence, meaning they must be 21 years of age in order to rent a Zipcar, according to the proposed agreement. The age limits differ because Zipcar has separate contracts with the schools and the city, Himberg said.

Since setting the minimum age at 18 years old, Zipcar has seen a boom in popularity among students at Brown and other Providence schools, The Herald previously reported. There are 2,153 Brown students enrolled in Brown’s Zipcar program, and they share 23 cars at five different locations around campus, wrote Carleia Lighty, transportation and parking services manager, in an email to The Herald. It costs $20 for students, faculty members and staff members to join Zipcar, and the agreement incorporates $30 of credit to driving hours as well as prepaid gas and car insurance, Lighty wrote.

As part of a new program started in 2012 in conjunction with Zipcar called Brown University Students with Drive, three student groups — Mariachi de Brown, Kicks for Kids and Brown Debating Union — won free driving credits of $5,000 each, Lighty wrote. There have been very few complaints from students or from Brown community members about the Zipcar Program and the University is “very satisfied with the successful partnership,” she added.

“Brown does not have a role in the discussion between Zipcar and the City of Providence. We continue to have a very good relationship with Zipcar and have confirmed with our contact there is absolutely no impact to our program as a result of any decisions between Zipcar and the city,” wrote Elizabeth Gentry, assistant vice president of financial and administrative services, in an email to The Herald. “Our university program is managed separately and there will be no impact to students.”

Some in the city have expressed concern over the costs of the contract to Providence, especially given the revenue lost from parking meter fees, the Providence Journal reported. Others have voiced concerns over setting aside parking spaces for a public-private partnership in an area where parking spaces are in high demand, Himberg said, adding that people might be irritated when the only parking spots they can find are those only available for Zipcar members.

“The Mayor’s Office of Sustainability and the administration appreciate the quality of life benefits that Zipcar provides the residents of Providence,” wrote Meaghan McCabe, director of multimedia and social media for the Mayor’s office in an email to The Herald. “At the same time, we have listened to the concerns raised by the City Council and are in discussions with Zipcar to address those concerns.”

Criticisms have also been raised over the contract’s provision that stipulates Zipcar would waive the annual membership fee for 40 Providence city employees who joined the car-sharing service. This measure will likely be removed from the renewed contract, Himberg said, adding that the measure was not meant as “a trade-off” in exchange for the city providing the company with more parking spaces.

Though no contract has been signed and formal details have not yet been released, negotiations between the city and the company will continue in the coming weeks in order to renew the contract as soon as possible, Himberg said.


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