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For some, Baltimore life is sweeter with no car

New options allow city residents to forgo driving

July 27, 2011|BY Michael Dresser, The Baltimore Sun

Zipcar positions vehicles in parking lots and on-street spaces around the city. Some of the street spaces are reserved for Zipcar under an exclusive agreement with the city. Users can go online to determine where cars are available and make reservations.

Rates for members, who pay an annual fee and an enrollment charge, are as low as $7.25 an hour, depending on the vehicle's gas mileage. Gas and insurance costs are included, and there is a gas card in each vehicle that lets members fill up at Zipcar's expense. Renters are required to leave the gas tank at least a quarter-full.

So far, Zipcar services are concentrated in downtown, at campuses and in some of the city's trendier neighborhoods such as Federal Hill, Canton and Charles Village. Vast swaths of the city and surrounding counties remain virgin territory for short-term car-sharing services, but Perez said Zipcar plans to expand to meet demand.

The Zipcar fleet ranges from small hybrids such as the Toyota Prius to light pickup trucks suitable for hauling. Perez said the company uses only vehicles that get at least 28 miles per gallon.

From the city administration's point of view, Baltimore can only gain from car-sharing programs.

Tiffany James, a spokeswoman for the Baltimore Parking Authority, said Zipcar has completed one year of a three-year contract. When the contract expires in 2013, the city can extend it or open it up to competition. Until then, she said, there's nothing precluding rival companies from entering the market and using private lots.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said recently that Zipcar's expansion has helped limit the number of cars in the city.

"We've shown that by working together, the city and Zipcar can make a positive impact on city life for our residents and businesses," she said in a prepared statement. "Fewer cars on the streets means less competition for limited parking spaces. It means fewer vehicles in rush hour traffic. And it means less pollution in the air."

For now, Zipcar has a near-monopoly on short-term, community-based vehicle rentals. But that could change. Rental giant Hertz has launched a car-sharing business, Hertz on Demand, which advertises cheaper rates and no fees. So far, according to its website, the only local Hertz on Demand site is at the University of Maryland campus in downtown Baltimore

According to Hertz, there are no current plans to expand beyond the campus, but Tony Green, university transportation demand management coordinator, said the three cars stationed there are getting plenty of use. Within the next few months, Green said, he expects to launch a pilot program in which students in the professional schools will use Hertz cars for off-campus clinical work.

Green was just about to go into an orientation session, and he planned to tell incoming students they may not need cars. "One of our pitches to them is you really don't need a car here," he said. "We have cars available."

Also helping to reduce the demand for individually owned cars is the Charm City Circulator. That's how Amy Hollomon, 27 — who sold her car two years ago — commutes to her Federal Hill office from the home she shares in Station North with her similarly car-less fiance.

"I was spending money I could be saving and using for other things," she said. "Parking was always a challenge if you didn't have a reserved spot."

Hollomon figures she and her fiance save about $400 a month by going car-free.

When Hollomon's not getting around on the Circulator, she uses MTA buses and light rail. About two or three times a month, she and her 34-year-old fiance, Brian Rogers, rent a Zipcar to do some shopping or visit family in Pennsylvania or Southern Maryland.

Hollomon said doing without a car took some getting used to.

"At first I was a little nervous about it, but it just takes a little extra planning on our part," she said.

An earlier version of this article incorrectly spelled Chris Merriam's name. The Sun regrets the error.

michael.dresser@baltsun.com

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