A problem shared is a problem halved

In this time of Great Interventions it may be time for city and Federal government to start taking an interest in enterprises that are commercially successful and contribute to the common good as well as those that are not and do not.

The concept of car sharing is growing in popularity in New York, other urban centers and college campuses. This trend is being led by Zipcar who operate a fleet of vehicles (5500 of them in the USA and UK)) that ‘live’ in local parking lots and are accessed by a combination of online booking and keyless vehicle opening. From the perspective of New York’s many occasional motorists the economics are compelling. The costs of car ownership including lease payments, insurance and the local garage are rarely less than $1,000 per month in Manhattan and $700 in the outer boroughs. In comparison 6 hours in a Zip Car can be yours for around $80 including gas.

Today the Federal Government allows individuals to claim a tax deduction when they donate their (usually very old) cars to one of a number of charities. Most often, this results in a new or newer car being purchased which leaves the same number of cars on the road, competing for road space and parking.

New York City might take a lead in evolving this model. Consider the possibility that the Federal tax credit was replaced with an optional equivalent (or larger) City funded credit with Zipcar. The credit would encourage drivers to experiment with car sharing and there is a high degree of probability that they would stick with it once they did the math and discovered the joys of driving occasion appropriate, new vehicles and not paying for the gas.

The beneficiaries of such a program are numerous. The consumer of course, all of us who breathe the city’s air, the Mayor who might see congestion in the city tackled in a way beyond the veto of Albany and, of course, the shareholders of Zipcar.

With the resulting influx of customers Zipcar will have to significantly increase its volume of vehicles. A cursory inspection of their web site, in New York at least, reveals an interesting lack of either American brand or hybrid vehicles. It is highly probable that there are significant and reasonable economic reasons for this but in these interventionist times such considerations can be swept aside for the greater good. To that end the price of participation should be an agreement whereby Zipcar would only buy fuel efficient American cars from now on thus benefiting Detroit disproportionately to its competitors. Further along Zipcars could also be encouraged to lead the trial and use of electric vehicles. The provision of re-charging facilities in parking garages is both practical and efficient certainly when compared to any other alternative.

To close the deal the Mayor could take one more radical step by allocating a percentage of all metered parking for the exclusive use of car sharers and thus give the city’s greatest prize of all to those who share.

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