In summer 2003, Tufts entered into an agreement with Zipcar (www.zipcar.com/tufts). The Zipcar system allows members to rent vehicles by the hour, and is established in urban areas to serve a population that needs an automobile periodically. Nearly 400 members, including administrators, development officers, faculty, staff, and students, can rent vehicles by the hour for university or personal business. While it is envisioned that some users may not have cars (a good assumption for some student populations), it is assumed that other Zipcar users may be families with one car whose Zipcar use can address competing demands for automobile access. Reservations are made on the Internet, and members use a proximity card to unlock and operate a specific car at the time agreed. The user picks up and returns the car to its dedicated parking space, so there are no trips to a rental office, and all financial transactions and approvals are embedded in the membership and reservation systems.
Under the agreement with Zipcar, Tufts has established dedicated parking for the Zipcars, and members of the university community who are over twenty-one are eligible to become Zipcar members at a reduced fee. Anecdotal evidence indicates that the Zipcars are popular among graduate students, faculty, and staff, and the program is being evaluated more systematically. The Zipcars in place at the university include two electric vehicles (EVs), provided to Tufts at no cost by Toyota. Electric vehicles, when properly charged and discharged, generate fewer emissions per mile than conventional automobiles; however, it is not currently clear whether the Zipcars displace automobile use (which would reduce emissions) or whether they result in new travel (which would increase emissions). Although this concept holds theoretical potential to reduce emissions, its potential is diminished significantly for institutions with exclusively undergraduate populations, because the number of drivers over twenty-one will be limited. Wellesley College has insured younger students in order to make Zipcars available to them.
One of the most time-consuming challenges associated with the initial phase of the Zipcar introduction was identifying dedicated spaces for parking the Zipcars. These cars require dedicated, reserved parking spaces so that they can be available for rental and have a space to return to. Despite the added parking capacity on the Medford campus associated with opening a parking garage in 1998, arriving at agreeable decisions on which spaces to "sacrifice" for the Zipcar minifleet (of two vehicles in Medford: one hybrid and one EV) proved extremely difficult. On our Boston campus, parking is even more difficult and each space can generate revenue, so the challenge was even greater.
Although TCI staff were aware that parking would have to be negotiated, the level of effort required exceeded worst-case assumptions. The reluctance to establish dedicated parking was not associated with negative views of Zipcars or the EV technology. In fact, the vehicles attracted positive attention and campus press shortly after delivery and before plug-in stations were established. Once the vehicles were charged and operating around campus, accolades poured in from both users and observers. The problem was that dedicated parking was seen as a privilege without precedent. Parking on campus is allocated on a first-come, first-served basis within zones (some zones are reserved for residents and others for faculty, staff, and commuting students), and the Zipcar needs challenged this long-standing system.
The technology of reserving cars online and providing access to them through a card that is activated remotely has been perfected by Zipcar. We believe that this technology can be employed on campuses to help manage university-owned vehicles that have multiple drivers (e.g., student-activity vans). This system may be able to improve vehicle tracking and reduce abuse—thereby saving modest driving miles and their associated emissions.
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