August 29, 2014

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Ohio State to use car-sharing company to encourage carpooling

COLUMBUS — Ohio State University will use a fleet of vehicles from the car-sharing company Flexcar as part of a new program designed to relieve the campus parking crunch and encourage students and employees to use environmentally friendly modes of transportation.

Students without cars as well as and others who walk, bike, car pool or take public transportation into the city can rent the cars for trips around town or elsewhere.

Car-sharing programs, through companies such as Seattle-based Flexcar and the Massachusetts-based Zipcar, are growing in popularity across the country, but the effort at Ohio State marks the first program for either company in Ohio.

Drivers use the service as a way to avoid high insurance costs, parking fines and rising gas prices. Officials also tout the environmental benefit.

For every person who leaves their personal car at home, there is “one less dollar spent on gasoline, one less car emitting pollution, and one less car on the road or in a parking spot,” said Sarah Blouch, director of Transportation and Parking for Ohio State.

Zipcar is experiencing its fourth consecutive year of 100 percent growth based on membership, fleet size and revenue, said spokeswoman Kristina Kennedy. It operates about 3,000 vehicles in 12 U.S. states and in Canada, with an additional 100 cars in London and plans to expand in Europe, she said.

Flexcar operates about 2,000 cars in 13 cities and 20 universities nationwide, according to company figures, said John Williams, a Flexcar spokesman. He declined to discuss membership numbers and growth data.

Both companies started service in 2000, and have plans for expansion within the U.S.

The program at Ohio State, with 20 vehicles, is the largest university-based venture for Flexcar. The University of Florida and Johns Hopkins use the next highest number of Flexcar vehicles, with eight each.

The Ohio State fleet, a mix of fuel-efficient hybrids, SUVs, pickup trucks and sports cars, is positioned around the campus in orange-marked reserved parking spaces. After joining Flexcar online, members can rent a car by paying an hourly or daily fee that includes some gas and insurance coverage.

The program will be particularly useful for first-year students in residence halls, who are not allowed to have cars on campus, said Ohio State spokeswoman Amy Murray. Unlike traditional car rental agencies which have higher age requirements, Flexcar allows students 18 years-old or older to use the service.

Access to a shared car at work also may encourage employees to leave cars at home by alleviating the feeling of being stranded in an emergency, said Williams.

Ohio state employee Dennis Cleary, 39, said worry about his 3-year-old daughter keeps him from biking the five miles to work as often as he would like to.

“I would feel more comfortable if I had a back up plan in case my daughter got sick or needed to get picked up from school,” said Cleary, who works in the school’s occupational therapy division.

Even though many people might be reluctant to give up the autonomy of having their own car nearby, Cleary said biking to work and then using a shared car might be the best solution for him.

“Days I bike tend to be much better days,” he said. “Not having to drive or park eliminates a lot of stress.”