Federal funding is bolstering cleaner air as Zipcar's membership fees are being waived.
When his car died more than a year ago, local architect Glenn Richters decided that he didn’t want to buy another one.
Getting around without his own vehicle has sometimes been a challenge, though. Showing up for a business meeting in his daughter’s Toyota Camry — with 200,000 miles on the odometer — isn’t ideal, and Richters said public transportation “has its limitations.”
On Wednesday, he may have found a better solution. Richters signed up as a member of Zipcar, a car-sharing service that held a launch event on Market Square in Knoxville, Tennessee.
Based in Cambridge, Mass., publicly traded Zipcar allows members to reserve a car online and access them at various locations, using an ID card to unlock the vehicle.
In Knoxville, users will be able to pick up one of four vehicles — Ford Focus and Honda Civic models — on the Gay Street Viaduct or on the University of Tennessee campus, at the intersection of 20th Street and Andy Holt Avenue.
The service’s annual membership fee is $60, but a $115,000 air quality grant from the Knoxville Regional Transportation Planning Organization — federal funding routed through the Tennessee Department of Transportation — will allow the membership fee to be waived for the first year.
The rates to reserve a car start at $7.50 an hour and $69 a day, including gas and insurance.
The company says each Zipcar takes up to 15 personally owned cars off the road.
Kelley Segars, principal transportation planner with the Knoxville TPO, said the service will improve air quality in Knoxville by reducing the amount of cars owned by residents.
“People who don’t have a car are less apt to use it,” she said.
Besides the air-quality benefits, Segars said car-sharing helps ensure that downtown parking spaces are available for customers, rather than being taken up by residents of the center city.
While car-sharing may be a niche market, there are signs that its popularity is growing.
The New York Times reported in January that some 800,000 people in the U.S. belonged to car-sharing services in 2012.
That was up 44 percent from the previous year, and the newspaper said there are some two dozen companies in the U.S. that offer the service.
Zipcar itself has been targeted by one of the blue-chip names in the car rental business. Last month, the company announced an agreement to be acquired by Avis Budget Group, in a deal valued at approximately $500 million.