Local carsharing program may soon get rolling in Cincinnati

A group of young leaders in Cincinnati believe it is long past time for the city to have a carsharing program of its own. The group of individuals make up the Transportation Committee of the Young Professionals Kitchen Cabinet (YPKC) which provides policy ideas and suggestions to Mayor Mallory that will help to both attract and retain young talent.

The idea for carsharing comes from a growing number of people either going car-free or car-light. What makes the issue particularly relevant to the YPKC is the fact that young people seem to be leading that trend. Nationally, the percentage of 16-year-old drivers with licenses has decreased from 41 percent in 1996 to 29.8 percent in 2006, and in Ohio that number has dropped five percent since 2000 alone according to the state Department of Public Safety and U.S. Census Bureau.

“This isn’t a very controversial topic, and many cities our size that don’t have transportation options beyond buses are able to make carsharing work,” said Chad Schaser, YPKC Transportation Committee member. “What they have realized is that you can create a successful program by starting around universities and the center city, where the number of people owning automobiles is historically lower, then work your way out from there.”

According to Schaser, their push for a carsharing program in Cincinnati could come in a number of forms. One option, he says, is to attract an existing carsharing service like Zipcars to the region.

“We first started working on the idea of a carsharing program in 2008 and really began in earnest this year,” Schaser explained. “Through our research we looked at locally run programs in Cleveland and Pittsburgh and we wanted to figure out how to recruit a carsharing program to Cincinnati, but we did not get a great response.”

Once the group discovered the likelihood of attracting a major carsharing provider to Cincinnati was low, they decided to shift their attention to figure out how to start a local carsharing program similar to those in Cleveland and Pittsburgh. The group then took six months to study the feasibility and put numbers together that would help generate a basic business plan.

The draft business plan put together by the group says that an initial 20-car fleet with some 500 members makes operations quite feasible, but Schaser says the real trick is coming up with the initial capital needed which they project to be around $250,000.

“If we can make this sustainable then there’s not going to be much opposition. Our goal is to make a program work here that won’t require taxpayer or major funding to make it happen.”

One way to get things going, Schaser says, is to get large employers to sign on as a charter member thus providing an upfront base of users. Once such member could be the City of Cincinnati which could be able to save millions of dollars annually by ridding itself of vehicle ownership and maintenance. After selling 329 vehicles, the City of Philadelphia was able to save $6 million through lower insurance costs, less use, and less abuse in just three years with its partnership with Philly CarShare.

But beyond landing an initial charter member, the committee feels like there will be some work in making Cincinnati a better place to live either car-free or car-light.

“In Cincinnati people are addicted to their automobiles,” exclaimed Schaser. “We think that the Cincinnati Streetcar will be well-used, and marrying a carsharing program with our existing and future transit options will help create a lesser dependence on cars.”

Right now the committee is conducting an online survey to gauge initial interest levels in Cincinnati.  The survey can be taken through December 1, 2010.  At that point Schaser says that the group hopes to take the idea and preliminary business plan to City officials for further development.

  • David Heyburn

    I would suggest to those who are leading this charge to Look at Philadelphia’s independent car sharing program. PhillyCarShare It seemed to be a little more autonomous than Zipcar and more beneficial to the local economy.

  • David Heyburn

    whoops, I guess I should have actually read the entire article first huh?

  • The group is looking at Philly CarShare. That’s why Philly CarShare is profiled in this story and has a photograph of one of its cars.

  • Haha…no worries. I know I’ve done it many times before. But yes, Philly CarShare is an excellent program to look at.

  • Eric Greenberg

    It always seemed to me that carsharing would be a natural fit for our local college campuses. Perhaps UC could be a potential partner?

  • King John

    If the city of Cincinnati doesn’t see the value in carsharing, then perhaps another possible charter member to consider would be the Archdiocese of Cincinnati?

  • Ian

    I think having the City as the first major user of the program is a perfect idea. You have an immediate user base, and the budget savings to the city would be amazing, allowing them to focus that money on more important things. Has anyone approached City management about this?

  • Neil

    As a Cincinnati transplant living in Chicago, I think Car sharing is a great idea, however, I’m not sure if its going to work in Cincinnati as a whole. There needs to be more neighborhoods like the Gaslight where all people’s basic needs are within walking distance, or better transit in order to make this feasible. The only places it should work are around UC, Northside (maybe), or downtown if downtown/OTR gets a full service grocery store…

  • I disagree Neil. I think the fact that Cincinnati has a dozen or more neighborhood business districts that are all walkable helps make the case for carsharing in the city. To me it would seem like cities that have a walkable layout (Cincinnati is one of the more walkable cities in the U.S.), and a population willing to participate that you will find success.

    Along the streetcar line alone roughly 30% of households don’t own a vehicle. Universities historically have high non-car ownership rates and UC boasts approximately 40,000 students…a number that does not include the student populations at nearby Cincinnati State, Xavier University, or Northern Kentucky University.

    With that said, better transit options will only improve the operations and success of any kind of carsharing program. Fortunately Cincinnati is working to revamp its bus system, build a modern streetcar system, and is poised to be connected to a passenger rail system connecting Ohio’s major cities.

  • Milwaukee has somewhere near 7 Zipcars thanks to the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee. They have a deal with Zipcar in place where they guarantee X amount of revenue. The public can use the cars, but they’re stationed at the schools facilities (spread over one of the cities densest neighborhoods).

    Perhaps this is something proponents could look into with UC? Could large urban employers or institutions (apartment buildings, the city) collectively guarantee the revenue to Zipcar? Again, that’s a situation where they’re only paying if the revenue falls short.

    Not sure if Zipcar is offering this deal elsewhere, but it’s what Milwaukee has.

  • Jeramey:

    A program similar to that used to be in place between Zipcar and Ohio State University in Columbus. The partnership ceased operations a year or so ago. I’m not sure if this still exists, but I would bet that Zipcar would do it if you guaranteed certain profit margins for them. At that rate I would bet a locally run carsharing program could be more successful financially and service-wise.

  • A locally-owned alternative could be more successful financially. Service-wise I’ve never heard any complaints from Zipcar. I don’t know what the target car number is for Cincy, but to make just a couple cars available it seems the lowest-risk option is to do a contract with Zipcar. I can’t imagine it would be profitable for UWM in Milwaukee to operate their 7 cars as their own car-sharing entity. The Zipcar option is just hassle free at that scale.

    If the goal is to launch 20+ cars from the start in Cincy, then it’s probably more wise to look at a locally owned option.

  • Chad Schaser

    Wow, guys! Great feedback! Thanks again to Randy for writing this article.

    1. Zipcar- our initial response from Zipcar is that they are looking around the world at much more densely populated areas than Cincy. Zipcar will consider Cincy if we could get enough people to request Zipcar come to a certain zip code- ie 45202.

    2. Better transit options- definitely desired for Cincinnati. Our view maintains car sharing will be a linchpin between individual car ownership and public transportation useage. As we look into Cincinnati’s transportation future, people will likely need automobiles for some time to come. Now, our only choice is individual ownership.

    3. Most neighborhoods beyond UC/ clifton and downtown will be challenged to sustain carsharing, but we believe these 2 neighborhoods are great places to start.

  • Chad Schaser

    4. UC- We have encountered plenty of progressive thinkers and car share supporters. However, no institutional support has been brought to light. We estimate if the city can save money through car sharing, that the university may experience the same opportunity to save money. Even before car sharing is offered to the students and clifton residents.

    5. City of Cincinnati- As we credit Mayor Mallory for bringing us together, we need to get our message to the mayor and other city officials. In a time when every dollar counts, nothing would be more rewarding to our cause than saving the city money.

    6. Archdiocese of Cincinnati- what a great idea! Think of all the neighborhood churches with underutilized parking (except on sundays). Think of all the families in those communities with teenage drivers… Again, great idea!

  • Chad Schaser

    Last, before we attampt to secure charter members, we need 2 logistical elements: where exactly the Cincy car sharing demand is and where exactly we can park cars. If we can determine where cars can be parked. Then, strategically parks cars where the most demand is- seems obvious. But the early logistics are going to be very important to sustainability.

    Thank you again!

  • Adam Harris

    I just moved here, live downtown, and have to decide soon on whether to buy/store/insure a car for 2 days/wk of driving. Car sharing would be phenomenal.

  • That’s a tough decision Adam, but I bet if you hang tight just a little bit longer you will be treated to a carsharing program of some sort in the near future.

  • Emily TeKolste

    I think we should definitely invest in a carsharing program. It would be a great benefit to the community.

  • AJ Knee

    I’m moving to Cincinnati later this year and desperately hope I’ll be able to survive without a car. I’ve been using Zipcar in Milwaukee for a number of years now and it’s been flawless. I love the way the company operates.

    As for Cincinnati, even though I “should” advocate for cars to be placed in Uptown (as I’ll be living there) I’ve actually found that the most useful cars in Milwaukee are not the ones on campus, but the ones near the most bus lines. I don’t think the Fountain Square garage ever fills up, and it’s right next to Government Square. That would be a perfect spot to pick up and drop off a car. After that, Northside is apparently the second largest bus hub. Not sure where you’d put cars up there though.

    Also, I’ve used HertzConnect (which is what Columbus moved to after Zipcar) in Normal Illinois numerous times and while it’s essentially the same service as Zipcar, their website drives me crazy. Honestly, the functionality of a carsharing website might be the most important aspect. I used to take the train from Milwaukee down to Normal, IL and drive a Hertz car to Peoria on a regular basis, but due to continued frustration with their website I now take a train to Champaign, IL (45 minutes further) and rent a Zipcar.

    Regardless, any service in Cincinnati would be incredibly helpful.

  • AJ:

    Actually the Fountain Square garage does fill up quite often. But I think a location of two vehicles there would be quite beneficial and not hurt parking capacity really at all.

    In Northside you could easily stick a car or two in the NBA surface lot across the street from Take the Cake. But you could also use some on-street parking spaces if need be. This is often done in Atlanta with their Zipcar locations.