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Zipcar representatives at an info booth.

Adam Brophy, Zipcar business development director, at the Zipcar kickoff in Coffman Union. He "talked to tons of people--at least a hundred--who seem interested, and about 90 percent were students."

No car? No problem

By Pauline Oo

January 23, 2006

A car is not just a car: it's a parking space, it's repair costs, and it's insurance payments... So it's no wonder that many students and employees at the University of Minnesota choose not to drive or even own a car. They walk, bike, carpool, or take the bus.

But some days it helps to have a car to run that occasional errand. Or get to a doctor's appointment. Or attend a meeting across town. Since January 6, University students and employees, and even neighborhood residents, have had a Zipcar to use.

The University of Minnesota is one of 23 colleges in the United States to make Zipcars accessible to its community. Zipcar, Inc., is the nation's largest provider of self-service cars for use by the hour or day. The U is hosting six Zipcars on its Twin Cities campus: a Honda Element SUV and a Mazda 3 sedan at the 21st Ave. Ramp on the West Bank, a Toyota Matrix wagon and a Madza 3 sedan in the Washington Ave Ramp on the East Bank, and a Toyota Matrix and Honda Element at the Gortner Ave. Ramp in St. Paul.

"[Using a Zipcar is] as easy as getting cash from an ATM," reads a company slogan. And it really is.

A few days after you complete an online application and pay the annual membership fee ($30 for U students, staff, and faculty, and the application fee is waived; $50 and a $25 application fee for all other users), you'll receive a Zipcard that looks like a credit card, which will serve as your key--unlocking any car that you reserve. (To qualify, you have to be more than 21 and have a valid driver's license, no major violations in the past three years, and no alcohol violations in the past seven years.) Reservations can be made online or by calling a toll-free number. The hourly rate is $8, with daily rates beginning at $60. Insurance, gas, mileage, and satellite radio are included. Zipcar members also have access to Zipcars located across the country, in Boston, New York, San Francisco and Washington, D.C.

Van-Go! to the U

The U's Parking and Transportation Services has partnered with the Metropolitan Council to launch Van-Go!, a new vanpool program that matches University staff and faculty living in the same geographic area and commuting to work along a similar path. The vanpool must have at least five passengers who can ride together at least three days a week. Vanpools serve areas that do not have convenient bus or light rail service. The Metropolitan Council subsidizes a portion of the van lease, while the vanpool group is responsible for the remainder of the lease, gas, and parking fees. Drivers must be at least 25 years old with a valid drivers license, a good driving record, and good credit.

To learn more, attend an information session: Wednesday, January 25, 7 to 9 a.m. at 110 St. Paul Student Center and 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. in 324 Coffman Memorial Union; Thursday, January 26, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., 110 St. Paul Student Center and 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. in Coffman Union; Tuesday, January 31, 7 to 9 a.m., 324 Coffman Union and 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., 280 Ferguson Hall. (To RSVP, call 612-331-4299.)Three white minivans in the VanGo! fleet.

"Zipcar gives students [and others in our community] a new freedom--access to a car without the worry of parking fees and maintenance costs that come with private ownership," says Mary Sienko, marketing manager at the U's Parking and Transportation Services (PTS).

The University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, is the third largest traffic generator in Minnesota--more than 80,000 people travel to and from the campus each day. (Downtown Minneapolis leads the pack, with the city of St. Paul in second spot.) Zipcars are one of many services PTS offers to alleviate traffic congestion on campus and help people save on transportation costs. The others include discounted bus passes (UPass and MetroPass), special parking rates (carpool lots and before 7 a.m. at most parking ramps), and Van-Go! (see side bar).

According to Zipcar, Inc., each one of its cars replaces 7 to 10 privately owned vehicles by giving people the option to share cars instead of each person buying and using their own. A survey conducted by the company found that while 43 percent of Zipcar members, or Zippies, owned cars in the last five years, only 11 percent do now; and Zippies who no longer own a car report saving more than $435 a month.

"There's a sense you get when you step out of the car, leaving it for the next guy, knowing that your expense and responsibility to the vehicle is done right there; that 'this is smart' [for the environment and your pocket,]" says Steve Kluskens, a Zipcar member since 2001.

To learn more about the Zipcar program, which has more than 10,000 members and 250 cars across the country, see www.zipcar.com.