The Daily Campus: March 2, 2006
Car Sharing Would Help UConn
By: Melanie Murphy
Parking. No other issue so swiftly unites undergraduates, faculty and staff. UConn is experiencing an acute shortage of parking, and the economics of parking fail us - neither decreasing demand nor increasing supply will effectively solve this problem. The best response, alleviating demand while increasing transportation supply, is a trend rapidly gaining popularity in cities and campuses across the country -- car sharing.
Decreasing the demand would be a sensible environmental option. How many cars do we really need when our daily classes are often only a few hundred feet from our dorm doors? Cars ravenously chug foreign oil products, belch out greenhouse gases and encourage the paving of countryside into a cement spider web. These are all compelling environmental arguments, but let's be honest - some days in Storrs are just cold enough to make global warming sound appealing. Jumping in a car sounds a lot better than spending 10 minutes getting frostbite waiting for a bus. Telling kids not to drive, charging an arm and a leg for parking passes or outright banning cars for underclassmen are all generally contentious and ineffective solutions to UConn's parking shortage.
Increasing the supply of parking is similarly impractical. Typical parking lots cost $1,500 per space and this figure rises to around $10,000 for garages. The latest campus Master Plan tallies 10,196 regular parking spaces, which appears hardly enough to quench the 10 percent to 30 percent of drivers in daily violation throughout campus. Parking demand is in gross excess, as evidenced by the going rate of $600 per semester at Farmer Brown's bar strip parking pasture. Given this excess demand and UConn's monopoly-like control of Storrs parking, eager drivers would quickly fill new spots. Creating any significant change in the parking supply imposes huge financial costs, which inevitably trace back to students fee bills and Connecticut taxes.
Neither of these routes solve the problem - sometimes you just need a car. Storrs' commercial and entertainment options are not always stellar. But does the car you use have to be your own? Not necessarily. With the exciting new business concept of car sharing, UConn can simultaneously reduce parking demand while still providing transportation, the fundamental service that a parking spot facilitates.
Car sharing is similar to a decentralized rental service where you can instantaneously reserve online. Using satellite technology and personal ID cards, customers can access a full range of cars for rental periods ranging from hours to days. The two dominant car sharing companies, Zipcar and Flexcar, run networks in major cities from Boston to San Francisco. The benefits are compelling, especially to recent college graduates struggling to match their entry level salary and the high costs of living in trendy post-collegiate locations like Boston and New York.
All the costs in car sharing are absorbed in the hourly rate which includes four wheels, gas, parking and insurance. So not having a car at school means no car payments, no insurance payments, no paying for gas in quarters and dimes found between seats, no oil changes, no maintenance, no car stereo, no second car stereo when the first car stereo gets stolen and so forth.
Prices in Boston range from $8 for a Toyota Prius to $12.50 for a Lexus SUV. Looking to escape to Vermont for a ski weekend? Escape in an Escape for $78 a day. Sound steep? Divide that four ways and compare that to what you and your buddies would pay for gas if you were driving your own car.
One of the best parts of car sharing is that you aren't stuck with one car. A Toyota Corolla will get you safely from point A to point B, even if that involves some inconveniently placed speed bumps and a stray deer or two. However, a Saturday date may call for a vehicle that allows for civil conversation and not deadening engine hum. Push the budget bracket to $12.50 per hour and that BMW convertible is yours for the evening.
Car sharing isn't just an entrepreneurial breakthrough for city dwellers concomitantly blessed with functional public transportation systems. Car sharing programs are also being utilized at universities around the country, the most relevant example being UMass. UMass recently phased out their aging flock of Chevy Luminas and replaced them with two Zip cars, a Mazda 3 named "Meganzer" and a Toyota Prius named "Mogue." Zipcar manages the online reservation system and maintains the vehicle, while UMass provides a reserved parking spot and eager market of faculty and students who rent the cars hourly and daily. Down in Chapel Hill, N.C., UNC's Zipcar fleet of four VW Beetles are all the buzz.
UConn can save money, mobilize the car-less and alleviate the parking shortage by integrating the car sharing model into our campus motor pool. One Zipcar purports to replace! 20 regular cars, while Flexcar offers a more conservation quote of seven to 10 cars offset by one shared car. Whatever the prediction, car sharing is an alternative to bringing more cars to UConn, thereby decreasing demand for spots and increasing transportation supply. Two or three cars in select locations on campus would provide a host of travel opportunities for students who otherwise are at the mercy of their car-owning friends or the Bonanza.
As the university tries to dissuade underclassman from driving, offering a car sharing service is a major selling point to incoming students who still want the freedom to be outgoing - and drive anywhere from the movies to the mall to our far-flung football stadium.