Zipcar coming to Santa Rosa

Santa Rosa residents who don’t want to own a car but might like to zip around in one sometimes are in luck - Zipcar, the nation’s largest car-sharing company, is coming to town.

The City Council today is expected to sign off on a deal allowing the company to operate two of its rental cars from city parking lots - one at the downtown SMART train and the other next to the Russian River Brewery.

The hope is that the service will give people yet another reason kick their fossil-fuel burning cars to the curb in favor of more environmentally friendly options like bicycling or public transportation.

“We’re looking for ways to reduce vehicle miles traveled and the car-share concept is a way to allow people to eliminate car ownership, or at least reduce the number of miles they need to drive,” said Kim Nadeau, the city’s parking manager.

The service, which began in the Boston area in 2000, is already available in 500 cities around the nation. After a period of rapid growth, the company was sold in 2013 for $500 million to Avis Budget Group. The company first rolled into Sonoma County in March 2016, when it began renting out two cars at Sonoma State University.

The expansion to Santa Rosa was made possible by a $170,130 grant from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission to the Sonoma County Transportation Authority providing subsidies to Zipcar and SCTA for administration of the program for two years.

“I think Zipcar car is interested in being here, they were just having a hard time making it pencil on their own,” said Suzanne Smith, executive director of SCTA.

Zipcar will be allowed to seek up to $72,300 per year in reimbursement for a range of upfront costs, including city fees and permits, signs, marketing and travel expenses. Operational costs like maintenance, fuel and insurance will only be reimbursed if rental and membership fees can’t cover them, according to the contract.

“It helps the concept of car-share get rooted in Santa Rosa, and hopefully it can spread out from there,” Smith said.

SCTA will be reimbursed $25,490 for administration of the contract.

Part of the subsidy will be used to lower the annual cost of Zipcar membership from $70 per year to $10. With the $25 application fee, that lowers the total annual sign-up cost from $95 per year to $35.

The locked Zipcars will be parked in the two surface lots when not in use. Drivers reserve them online or using a smartphone.

The type of cars offered hasn’t been determined yet, but SSU has a Honda Civic and a Ford Focus.

The Focus rents for $7.75 per hour all week, the Civic for $8.50 on weekdays, and $9.50 on Fridays and the weekend. Daily rates are between $69 and $77.

Drivers can travel up to 180 miles per day, with additional charges of 45 cents per mile after that. Gas and insurance are included. The cars come with a company gas card that can be used to fill up.

After reserving the car online, drivers hold their membership card over a device on the windshield and the car automatically unlocks. The keys are already inside, and the driver can start the car and drive off.

When returning it to the original location, the keys are left inside the car and the doors locked. The driver’s account will be automatically charged for the rental.

Zipcar is going to pay Santa Rosa $280 per month to park the cars at the two locations, which are considered prime spots.

From the time the contracts are all signed, it should take about six weeks for the service to be up and running, according to Zipcar.

A good example of someone using Zipcar would be a tourist coming to Santa Rosa on the SMART train who wants to use a car briefly, Smith said.

Commuters who want to use public transportation but need to get to a final destination too far from a train station could also use Zipcar for that final part of the their journey.

For example, a Petaluma resident who normally takes the SMART train to Santa Rosa to work downtown but has a meeting in Fountaingrove might be forced to commute by car that day, said Dana Turrey, SCTA transportation planner.

But the Zipcar allows him or her to still take SMART to work, use Zipcar for the midday trip and commute home without fighting the congestion on Highway 101, Turrey said.

You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 707-521-5207 or On Twitter @srcitybeat.

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