TheCityFix.com website – a highly respected online resource for sustainable transport news, research and “best practice” solutions – recently suggested that the just-announced acquisition of Zipcar represents a watershed moment for car sharing. I beg to differ.
Don’t get me wrong. Automated car-sharing technology has made certain transportation alternatives available around the clock and even more convenient. But the fact is, local car rental – just like local car sharing – has always offered accessible and affordable mobility options right where people live and work.
That’s precisely why I was so heartened to read about Northeastern University’s Fleura Bardhi and Suffolk University’s Giana M. Eckhardt, two curious researchers who got together to independently test the car-sharing hype and media frenzy. Indeed, as reported in ScienceDaily.com, their study challenges the “romanticized view of access understood as a form of collaborative consumption and altruistically motivated.”
Those in the car-sharing business already know about the industry’s legal and financial challenges. But this study – Access Based Consumption: The Case for Car Sharing – confirms that affordability and convenience, rather than a sense of community, actually are the primary factors driving consumers’ participation in car-sharing programs:
“….we find that our informants do not have or want to have communal links with the company or with one another. There is a distinct lack of community among Zipcar users, even though the company is attempting to build one. Our informants do not relate to the brand as much as they do to the attributes of the offerings. They also do not feel a connection to other Zipcar users.”
The study also reveals that clean, well-maintained vehicles, as well as access to new and different models, are critical issues for car-sharing customers. None of this is exactly news here at Enterprise.
We firmly believe these landmark findings should serve as a reality check – a big wake-up call – for anyone who believes in car-sharing technology and transportation sustainability overall. Today’s car-sharing customers, just like car-rental customers, are demanding up-to-date vehicles and first-rate customer service. Moreover, the best way, the only way, to make car-sharing service scalable is to ensure that it is flexible, responsive and competitive in the marketplace.
For example, after acquiring car-sharing programs in Philadelphia, New York and Boston, we quickly updated and increased those local fleets with newer makes and models, including more fuel-efficient vehicles and hybrids. And today, we operate Enterprise CarShare as an extension of our unique Enterprise Rent-A-Car neighborhood network, which includes almost 1 million vehicles and more than 5,500 offices located within 15 miles of 90 percent of the U.S. population.
The most recent car-sharing research underscores – for urban planners, elected officials and other visionary leaders – why transportation needs to not only be environmentally, but also operationally and financially, sustainable in the communities we all serve. In addition, the research reinforces Enterprise’s public and long-term commitment to urban mobility, which was addressed by our Chairman and CEO at the 2012 Corporate EcoForum annual meeting. In his keynote speech last summer, Andy Taylor noted that hourly car sharing has a role to play in the urban mobility equation, stressing that, “at Enterprise, we already have the scale and structure to implement car sharing in virtually every urban market.”
Consider that, more than 15 years ago, Enterprise Rent-A-Car trademarked the term Virtual Car® when it recognized the strength and energy of local car rental service – regardless if it is for an hour, a day, a week or longer – and especially for those who rely on mass transit during the week or who simply cannot afford to purchase or maintain a vehicle on their own. But no matter what you call it – car rental or car sharing – this is just one more way that our industry is committed to offering transportation alternatives that meet customer needs and that make good business sense.
Lee Broughton heads up Corporate Sustainability for the most comprehensive service provider in the car rental industry, Enterprise Holdings, which – through its regional subsidiaries – owns and operates the Alamo Rent A Car and National Car Rental brands as well as its flagship Enterprise Rent-A-Car brand. Under Broughton’s direction, Enterprise Holdings’ Corporate Sustainability initiative focuses on the “triple bottom line” – global economic, social and environmental sustainability – and how those interdependencies impact the car rental industry. The company’s www.DrivingFutures.com website highlights its sustainability initiatives.