Business News Transportation

Car-Sharing Could Reduce Costs, Improve Efficiency of Cincinnati’s Vehicle Fleet

When a brother and sister are fighting over the same toy, a parent quickly steps in and teaches the children to take turns and share.

Now that Over-the-Rhine parking is at a premium, and the residential permit plan has been vetoed, the residents of OTR are going to have to find a way to share parking, or risk losing more of the historic neighborhood to parking lots and garages. Sharing also presents an opportunity when it comes to modernizing the City of Cincinnati’s fleet of 2,149 vehicles.

Mayor John Cranley (D) received unanimous support for this year’s budget, which includes $110 million to make much-needed upgrades to the City’s fleet and roadways over the next six years. While some vehicles, like those for police and fire, cannot be shared, others certainly can; and by implementing a program like Zipcar’s FastFleet program, Cincinnati would benefit from significant savings and operating efficiencies.

In 2012, an internal audit of the Fleet Services Division found that fleet management has been “unwieldy” and mentioned that a knowledgeable and empowered staff is needed to properly manage the system. This has proven difficult over the past decade due to a severe cut in funding for the department in 2003.

“Almost the entire management team left the department near the end of 2007 and was not replaced,” the internal audit noted. “While the staff operates to the best of their abilities, they are undermanned without the resources to correct the inertia of the department.”

The Fleet Services Division operates under the Public Services Department, and controls and maintains 2,149 motorized vehicles for various departments at City Hall. These departments pay $63 an hour for maintenance and repair of the vehicles and are allocated a portion of the capital budget based on their proportion of need with regards to their percentage of obsolete fleet.

In 2011 Fleet Services was allocated $4,301,900 in capital dollars and $5,240,600 was allocated for 2012. These numbers are expected to rise as soon as the approved budget is published on July 1, but more money for new vehicles is only part of the solution. The 2012 audit also recommended reducing the size of the fleet, evaluating underutilized equipment, and examining the cost of leasing sedans and light trucks.

With services like FastFleet, City Hall could optimize its fleet without degrading operations, thus lowering maintenance and administrative costs.

FastFleet works by tracking vehicle usage by employees through GPS monitoring systems. This enables the service to produce real-time data, with recommendations on synergy and optimization. Once this data is analyzed, car assignments can be reorganized to allow for sharing of each vehicle by city employees, ultimately allowing for more efficient usage of vehicles.

In Washington D.C., city officials there were able to benefit from $6 million in savings over a five-year period by eliminating more than 200 administrative vehicles from their fleet. While Cincinnati’s fleet is smaller than the nation’s capital, proportional savings are safe to be assumed.

With City Hall poised to invest millions into its fleet operations, now is the perfect time to look into a solution such as this that could potentially reduce the City’s fleet, while also improving its performance.

A program could even be put in place to allow for public use of the vehicles, akin to the city’s existing Zipcar system, when city employees are not in need of the fleet. The revenue collected from these services could then be used to offset the public’s cost of maintaining the city’s fleet, while also expanding car-sharing services to other neighborhoods outside of the city center.

As it stands now, the City of Cincinnati does not even know what the optimal size is for its vehicle fleet. Tracking the performance of the fleet and analyzing the data will help bring clarity to the matter, and allow for the fleet to perform more efficiently.

Implementing a vehicle sharing program for Cincinnati’s municipal fleet would help save additional taxpayer dollars, improve operations and bolster car-sharing throughout the city.

EDITORIAL NOTE: Chad Schaser contributed to this article.

Business News Transportation

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.