With upwards of 900,000 members and 10,000 vehicles across the globe, Zipcar’s figures speak for themselves – car sharing is on the up. And this US-based operator is confident of its position as one of the market leaders.
Sharing rather than owning is a concept that explains the rise of the sharing economy, with the support of younger generations. Having access to an asset at a lower cost – both for the individual and the community – rather than having to buy it, is seen as attractive and can mean a hassle-free, flexible lifestyle. Shared mobility options such as public transport, car- and bike-sharing, car-pooling, etc. are increasingly popular transport choices.
(Source: ‘Public Transport Trends’, UITP, June 2015)
Active in Paris since September 2014, Zipcar France is now available in more than 70 locations in Paris and the 10 largest cities nationwide, with one to five vehicle(s) of all types (city, family, utility) per location. Most recently it has gained ground in the form of on-street visibility and a strategic partnership with French Railways (SNCF).
“We started out with underground parking and it has worked well, despite the obvious lack of visibility,” says managing director Etienne Hermite. “Naturally we are delighted to have obtained 96 on-street spaces [at 48 stations] which we’ve already started to occupy and will keep rolling out as they become available. This first move by Mairie de Paris [226 spaces in total were allotted between six companies this June] is concrete proof that it recognises and is supporting the need for different modes of transport to meet the demands of Parisians. Offering a range of mobility services is one of the drivers for getting them to abandon their cars,” he adds.
On Board French Railways
In April 2015, Zipcar France inked an agreement with SNCF that will put the company on the map – more specifically at 27 TGV (high-speed train) stations in 15 cities across the country. Henceforth its sharing offer is now included in the rail operator’s new (July 2015) iDPass mobile app, designed to offer a range of ‘last mile’ mobility services (taxi, chauffered cars, electric car hire) and forming part of SNCF’s strategy to diversify into a ‘mobility service provider’.
“We represent one of the ‘building blocks’ of iDPass, which already has some 2.5 million users,” comments Mr Hermite. “Having a recognised and respected mobility actor like SNCF by our side will certainly help boost awareness of our services among its regular customers.”
In 2013, Zipcar became a subsidiary of Avis Budget Group, the vehicle rental business that already enjoys a high profile in France through its agencies nationwide, including at railway stations. Is there a risk of family rivalry between the two? “There might be some overlapping, yes,” admits Mr Hermite. “But bear in mind their core differences.”
These distinctions essentially concern time, distance, and access: Zipcar is about hours of rental, eight on average, and distances of between 50 to 100km. Its members access vehicles (‘within seconds,’ says Zipcar France) via their mobile apps and pick them up on demand, no need to queue at a counter or fill in paperwork. Meanwhile Avis is targeting ‘longer haul’ journeys covering hundreds/thousands of kilometres, and lasting days/weeks.
“Our role is to meet the occasional, four-wheel mobility needs of customers, such as a return journey within a city for a business meeting,” clarifies Mr Hermite. “But since Zipcars function on the basis of the ‘round trip’, they must be returned to their point of departure, our service, unlike public transport, is obviously not suited to travel like the daily commute.”
Clicks, Costs & Climate
By no means not the only private player on the Paris car sharing scene (others include Communauto, Bluecarsharing, Hertz On Demand, and Keylib), how is Zipcar France seeking to gain and maintain market share?
“Through simplicity of use – it takes just two clicks to reserve on our mobile app,” replies Mr Hermite. “Then there’s the cost factor: our research shows that if a customer leaves their car at home to use Zipcar, they can save €300 a month. And for local authorities, our presence means less cars on the roads, less pollution, and less congestion.”
This final point neatly answers Revolve’s next question – where does Zipcar stand on environmental matters?
Mr Hermite points out that Zipcar France is making efforts to introduce ‘greener’ fuels. How so? Well, in addition to the Peugeot 3008 hybrid vehicles already in service, roll-out of eight plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHV) is on the cards for early 2016.
In 2001, the California Air Resources Board added incentives to its Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) Program to include electric vehicles (EVs) within car sharing fleets, prompting many operators, including Zipcar, and manufacturers to add them to their fleets/production lines. Now that the incentives are set to expire in 2018, researchers from the Transportation Sustainability Research Center (TSRC) [at the University of California, Berkeley] recently examined the impact of exposure to zero- and low-emission car sharing on user behavior and opinions.
The results support that exposure to PHVs or EVs through car sharing has influenced customer ZEV perceptions to be more positive, and has commensurately increased the propensity for an individual to buy a ZEV. Furthermore, the data suggest that certain socio-demographic groups, such as younger people (millenials) and women, are more interested in purchasing these vehicles after using them in carsharing.
The Role of ‘New Mobility Services’
Across Europe, Zipcar expects the total number of car sharing subscribers (to all the different operators combined) to increase fivefold by 2020. And Mr Hermite views the France market with a particularly favourable eye. Why? “For two main reasons,” he tells Revolve. “Its cities are quite densely populated and their public transport services generally good, which means they are efficient for daily trips like commuting, which Zipcar doesn’t really cater to.”
“Mass transport is crucial for ‘massive’ transport flows, but the new mobility services (car sharing) are very useful for the last mile and for areas that are less dense,” says Fabienne Herlaut, advisor, mobility 2.0 & member of the Mov’eo strategic committee (source: p.31 ‘Public Transport Trends’). “These services are complementary to public transport and do not compete with it,” she expands. “That is because they help to take the pressure off overloaded public transport at certain times of the day, as well as covering areas and trips it doesn’t serve.”
A Zipcar commissioned survey in the US reveals that millennials see the high costs of maintenance, parking, and fuel as barriers to owning a car. Furthermore, 50% say they would drive less if other transportation options, like public transit and car sharing, were available in their area, with 35% reporting that they are actively seeking substitutions for driving.
Back in France, attitudes towards the automobile have definitely reached a turning point, especially in cities. ‘Car use in urban areas is falling, while ridership of transport services is rising,’ confirms a study by 6t.
“There is less of a need to own a car in cities today; instead it is becoming the mode for one-off journeys,” comments Mr Hermite. “Yet to speed up this shift, the authorities must facilitate access to on-street parking for sharing services. But the process takes time, he concedes, because it represents a long-term strategy, plus the public have to be informed of the reasons and benefits, they are gaining a more efficient transport mode.”
Mix & Match
In existence since the 1990s, car sharing is hardly an emerging transport mode. However in recent years it has really taken off due to a combination of factors, namely ‘rapid urbanisation and a scarcity of parking places, the economic crisis, growing environmental pressure on governments, de-motorisation linked to the sharing economy, and the rapid development of digital solutions.’ (Source: ‘Public Transport Trends’).
Looking to the future, Mr Hermite sees mobility in cities being comprised of a mix of modes, with the car gradually losing ground – “already today, when single occupancy, it makes no sense for journeys that can be made more efficiently by public transport,»” he reckons. «”owever cars will always be needed to a certain degree, to cover trips not served by public transport.”
Writer. Lesley Brown, Mobility Journalist for Revolve Media