Car-sharing program coming to campus, downtown this fall
Friday, August 17, 2012

It’s not exactly New York, but owning, insuring, parking, fueling, and maintaining a car can get pricey in Iowa City, especially if you’re an undergraduate student trying to pay for tuition, books, food, and other essentials.

Until now, there were few alternatives for reaching places too far to walk or bike. You could hire a taxi, which is fine for short distances but also pricey. You could take a bus, so long as your destination is along one of the designated routes. Or you could buy or rent a moped, which is great in good weather but impractical in rain or snow.

Starting this fall, students, faculty, staff, and members of the Iowa City community will have another option: a car-sharing program run by a company called Zipcar.

The University of Iowa and Iowa City have identified 10 designated parking places around campus and downtown where registered Zipcar members can find vehicles waiting and ready to go.

With rates starting from $7 an hour and $66 a day (after an initial registration fee), Zipcar members can reserve a vehicle online or by using Zipcar’s mobile apps on a smartphone for a particular time, then use a swipe card to enter (keys are kept in the car).

Members can reserve the vehicles—four Ford Focuses, two Honda Civics, two Honda Insights, one Mazda 3, and one Toyota Prius—anywhere from one hour up to several days. Zipcar covers gas, insurance, and 180 miles of driving per day (additional charges apply for miles driven beyond that limit). The user’s only obligation is to return the vehicle to its designated space with at least a quarter tank of gas; fill-ups are paid for with a Zipcar debit card, at no cost to the user.

Zipcars will be parked at the following locations:

  • Three on Byington Road at the Quad Meters between Hillcrest and Quad Residence Halls
  • Three on the west side of Clinton Street, in front of Burge Residence Hall
  • Two in angle parking spaces at the west end of Iowa Avenue, at the Clinton Street intersection
  • Two in angle parking spaces on Linn Street in front of the Old Public Library.

View a map of the Zipcar locations here.

Mike Serafino, general manager for Zipcar University, says the service reduces congestion and parking demand, reduces emissions, and saves members money—as much as 70 percent of the total transportation costs when compared with private vehicle ownership, according to studies cited by the company.

“Each Zipcar takes approximately 15 personally owned cars off the road,” Serafino says. “By giving people on campus access to cars specifically when they need them, we reduce the demand for parking as well as the number of cars driving on and around campus each day.”

He added that because members pay for each trip, they tend to use their time efficiently and avoid wasteful trips. In fact, he says, studies show that Zipcar members reduce their overall mileage by about 40 percent after joining.

Dave Ricketts, UI director of parking and transportation, says he’s eager to see the program in action in Iowa City.

“While there is no cost or obligation to the UI or Iowa City (aside from reserving 10 parking spots), I hope we can see a drop in parking demand and traffic congestion—such as it is in a city the size of Iowa City,” Ricketts says.

Liz Christiansen, director of the UI Office of Sustainability, said car-share programs like Zipcar are one of a wide range of measures campuses can take to reduce emissions and encourage a more thoughtful use of limited resources.

“While we have many environmentally friendly transportation options on campus and in Iowa City—public transit, van pools, carpooling, walking, and biking—this service fills that gap when you need short-term access to a car,” she says. “We hope that more people will become aware of this option and consider leaving their cars at home.”

Zipcar representatives will hold a news conference at 10 a.m., Wednesday, Aug. 22, in Room 337 of the Iowa Memorial Union to discuss the program and answer questions. Additionally, a Ford Focus Zipcar will be on display on the same day in Hubbard Park right next to the IMU. Click here for details.

Zipcar operates on more than 250 college and university campuses around the United States. The UI is the first university in Iowa to contract with Zipcar, although Iowa State University has a membership-based car-sharing program through Enterprise called WeCar.

Find out more about how it works at