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Marshall University considering car-sharing program

Nov. 25, 2010 @ 09:53 PM

HUNTINGTON -- As the Marshall University population grows, so does the need for parking.

That, and the university's recent push toward green initiatives, has led to the consideration of the national car-sharing program Zipcar.

Started 11 years ago primarily for businesses and larger cities, Zipcar now serves more than 225 college campuses. The program is fairly simple -- new vehicles parked throughout campus for use by anyone with a Zipcar membership. The end result: fewer vehicles parked on campus and money saved by parents and students.

And it appears the Marshall family is interested. Chief of Staff Matt Turner said that there was enough interest expressed through a recent campus survey to move forward.

"It looks like we're going to pursue it, at least on a trial basis," Turner said. "It's good for students and the community. It gives them an inexpensive car only when they need it."

Zipcar's vice president of International University Operations Matt Malloy said a program can get under way within four to six weeks. But Turner indicated the program is likely to start next August.

While he wouldn't discuss the details of university contracts, Malloy did agree with Turner in that there is relatively low risk to Marshall with a great benefit to students.

"Universities are seeing successes at other schools and that there really is little risk," Malloy said, adding that Zipcar has grown to more than 400,000 members and 7,000 vehicles in urban areas and college campuses throughout the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom.

Providing options

Malloy said university officials start discussions with Zipcar for a variety of reasons. Some, like Marshall, are seeking to reduce the volume of vehicles on campus. But he said it boils down to providing students with more transportation options at a lower cost.

"A shared car is a better-used car," Malloy said.

And Zipcar officials argue that the program actually saves parents and students money, despite a $35 annual membership and typical rental fees of $8 an hour or about $66 per day.

That's because insurance is included in the rental fees, and Zipcar provides a special gas card in the vehicle.

But does it fit here?

Marshall is a relatively compact campus, mostly located between Hal Greer Boulevard and 22nd Street and 3rd to 6th avenues. A person can park on one end of campus and walk to the other side in about 10 minutes.

But as the university continues its focus on recruitment and retention, the end result will be more students and more vehicles.

Marshall requires freshman and sophomore students who do not meet any of the exemptions to live in a residence hall. That leads to more students bringing vehicles, and more passes being sold. According to the Office of Public Safety, 2,030 student parking permits were issued for the 1,460 spaces available last fall. That is up to 2,103 this fall, about 60 more than is usually allotted at rate of 1.4 permits per spot.

The hope, officials say, is to reduce the amount of vehicles being brought on campus by resident students.

"It's about staying on campus without worrying about a car," Turner said.

That's also why West Virginia University launched its program in August with five vehicles. Hugh Kierig, director of Parking and Transportation, said they needed to address the lack of available student parking.

"When they come in for orientation, we tell them not to bring a car because there's no place to park," Kierig said.

Morgantown, though, is much different than Huntington. The campus is spread out, with a lot of hills leading to and from academic buildings and apartments.

"It's all shapes, sizes, rural, urban," Malloy said of the universities Zipcar serves. "A lot of the commonalties are people can't afford or don't want to have a car on campus anymore."

But it's not just about having a Zipcar fleet on campus. According to Zipcar's media kit, its members have reported a higher personal use of public transportation, biking and walking.

"It's a whole new category of transportation," Malloy said.

And that's how WVU officials view it as well. Kierig said Zipcar adds to the personal rapid transit system (PRT) railway system; access to the Mountain Line regional bus service; carpool and vanpool matching programs for both students and employees; and incentive programs to walk, bike or use another one of the programs.

"Zipcar is just another transportation option to promote," Kierig said.

So far, he said the vehicles are being used. They keep two at the downtown campus, two on the Evansdale campus and one in the student neighborhood. The latter, he said, is used 92 percent of the time on the weekends.

He also touted Zipcar's resident advisor incentive. The company will waive the $35 membership fee and provide $35 worth of drive time so they can get familiar with the program and then tell students in the dorms about it.

That sounds good to Dave Haas and Leah Treadaway, who hold such positions in Marshall Commons.

Both Haas and Treadaway have vehicles on campus and aren't sure how much they would use Zipcar now, but they think freshman and sophomore students probably would.

"I have a large majority of residents who have cars," said Treadaway, a resident advisor in Willis Hall who oversees more than 40 students.

Haas, a resident director and graduate student from the Cross Lanes area, said he brought a car to campus during his freshman year. Zipcar, he said, would have been a prime option for him.

"I had a vehicle and never drove it," Haas said. "I stayed on campus a lot. I used (my car) to go home or go to Walmart."

Addressing needs

Still, Haas and Treadaway said there are a lot of freshmen who don't have cars and such a program could be beneficial.

But they also said that with the growth of Marshall's out-of-state and international student population, there are groups of students who are limited in their transportation options.

"International students know no one, and a lot feel they are restricted to the shuttle to Pullman," Haas said.

That was one reason that Baylor University in Waco, Texas, started its Zipcar program this semester. Baylor, which is slightly larger than Marshall in both area and student population, didn't have a parking problem, according Matt Penney, Baylor's director of Parking and Transportation. It was more about expanding transportation options.

"Our public transportation is good but not outstanding," Penney said. "And we have a large international base, and students coming to Waco from an urban setting, where they didn't have vehicles. We want them to be able to go out into the community in Waco."

With a student body of more than 14,000, Penney said more Baylor students are learning about its Zipcar program all the time. He said they average about one new member a day and most Zipcar rentals are by the hour.

"We haven't hit the mark we want to be at, but we're getting closer," Penney said. "Our focus is on faculty and staff of where we want to market a little more to."

A Zipcar program also impacts commuters, and those at Marshall don't hold back on their parking complaints. A group of friends who graduated from Huntington and Spring Valley high schools said parking is a real problem for commuters.

"I just hate that I have to do circles for 20 minutes to find a spot," said freshman John Elliott, who also would like to see a scooter rental program. "The hardest part of commuting is waiting for a spot."

And the expectation is that it will get worse. Jim Terry, director of Public Safety, said they are discussing a change of the ratio they sell the parking passes, from the current 1.4 per space up closer to the national average of about 1.7 permits per spot.

According to statistics provided by Zipcar, the program has positive outcomes. One Zipcar takes 15 to 20 personally-owned vehicles off the road, meaning two vehicles at Marshall might open up 30 to 40 parking spots.

How Zipcar Works

SIGNUP: Signing up takes place online and includes a driving record check. Most approvals are done with 24 hours. Membership is $35.

RESERVATIONS: Vehicles are reserved online at www.zipcar.com. Members can browse cars that are nearby or search by time, location or model. Vehicles can be booked within minutes or months in advance.

Accounts can be managed online.

ACCESS: Zipcar vehicles are accessed by going to designated parking spaces and holding the Zipcard against the card reader embedded in the windshield. Using radio frequency identification technology, the vehicle knows you have a reservation and the doors unlock (also used to lock vehicle).

The keys are tethered to the dash, and the vehicle won't start with the proper Zipcard being swiped to open the door.

COST: Most Zipcar rentals are $8 per hour or $66 per day. This fee includes insurance and fuel. A fuel card is located in the vehicle and is used at any pump. When the fuel card is swiped, members will be prompted to enter the vehicle's mileage and their personal member number.

FOR YOUR PHONE: There also is a Zipcar App, a mobile website, alerts and two-way text.

PARKING: Vehicles are returned to reserved parking locations and locked up. Trip details are available online within a few hours.

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