Zipcar is celebrating its expansion in Los Angeles, but I fear that even with the added cars it won’t catch on because of the complicated process of getting to a pickup spot in this sprawling city. I was impressed when I first saw the car-sharing program in action a few years ago while visiting a carless friend in San Francisco. I would’ve loved to use Zipcar in L.A. but was discouraged because just getting to a spot to pick up a car (near UCLA, USC or Loyola Marymount) would require a couple of buses and about 40 minutes of my day, maybe more. It always ended up being more convenient to rent a car on the rare occasions I needed one. L.A. is so spread out that unless Zipcar goes into total saturation here, it might not be feasible for a lot of people to rely on it. Even the press release
seems to acknowledge that, pointing out that a shared car makes a good “second car”:
"In addition to replacing car ownership entirely for most people, Zipcar is the perfect ‘second car’ for two driver households who need access to a second vehicle only part of the time," Norman continued. "Zipcar complements other modes of transportation like walking, biking and public transit, and with the average cost of car ownership in L.A at more than $9,500 per year, we provide a convenient, cost saving alternative.”
It’s weird to characterize Zipcar as complementing other modes of transportation. More like other modes of transportation — and possibly a combination of walking, busing and transferring — are a painful prelude to putting keys in the ignition. The new Zipcars are in Hollywood. Eric Garcetti, when announcing the new spots on Facebook, was asked if more of the cars were coming to Silverlake. He replied that he hoped so but for now, “you can grab them pretty close by at Hwd and Western already and drive ‘em anywhere (including Silver Lake) :)” (Garcetti uses emoticons!) Pretty close? That’s still several miles away, and though there’s a Metro station at Hollywood/Western, there’s no easy Metro rail access to Silverlake. Depending on which part of Silverlake you live in, you’d still need to walk to a bus stop and take one or more of them to Hollywood/Western. By contrast, the San Francisco neighborhood I used to live in now has two pickup spots, so walking to them seemed convenient. Of course, San Francisco is compact. In L.A., it seems that for car sharing to work with little hassle, you need to live near a reliable bus line or a Metro station or within walking distance of a Zipcar spot, or have your household’s primary driver drop you off at Zipcar. Or just learn teleportation.
[photo by me from a recent S.F. visit]