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Zipcar doing well at UCLA (& better at USC): well enough for LA?

Car sharing got its first four-month check-in on Wednesday at the LA City Council's Transportation committee hearing. The news was pretty good – unless you’re a UCLA fan.

Zipcar's pilot project with the city is focused on USC and UCLA – where, a report from DOT chief Rita Robinson tells the city council, the company's got established bases.

Apparently demand for Zipcar services is bursting at the seams at USC. Each school got six cars to start, though there were some rough spots at the get-go. (Bueller? Anyone have a (horror) story?) Within a month the company asked for 4 more spaces so they could total 10 cars near USC.

Zipcar reported "utilization rates" to the council Wednesday. Not a lot of clarity on what that means, but from context I'm figuring it means how much the car's checked out. (I've got a call into Zipcar, of course.) Zipcar told the council that demand's supposed to grow 15-20% in the first six months and 30% in the first year at a new location At both pilot "pods," they're well past that – tripling what was expected in October at USC, and more than doubling it at UCLA.

Zipcar's getting some new members. Three hundred existing members who have in the past used cars elsewhere in LA county are using these new cars, and 100 more have signed up so far.

The city's reporting problems, too. For one thing, the parking permit division of the city DOT is running the program - and they're understaffed. Another seems trickier: parking itself. The pilot program dedicates parking spaces on city streets for the Zipcars to return to when they're checked back in. Like a little public rental car site. Except it turns out the public can't find parking around USC or UCLA either and they steal the poor little Zipcar's spots. They're ticketing, and they stepped it up, but it sounds like the deterrent, the big stick, is impounding cars. Hard to tell if that's working yet.

There's a secondary effect that may be creating some tension between the city and Zipcar. When Zipcar members return the car to where they got it from, and can't find a spot, they leave it nearby. The report says "[s]uch advice does not ensure the proper and legal parking of vehicles" The 2 in the 1-2 punch comes in the next sentence, when it's pointed out Zipcar has no local staff here to put the cars in the right place eventually. All of that is creating a bureaucratic headache for the city (the head of a city department says).

LADOT general manager Rita Robinson's report suggests cars for colleges isn't exactly where it's at as far as the city's concerned. "A more goal-oriented use of the car-share program" could be to put cars around rail and transit stations and other transportation facilities."

I emailed with several people at Zipcar before the committee hearing, and got promises of a response, but none yet. I'd love to hear what they say. And Zipcar users? Can you find me?

Lastly, for you UCLA fans: you're approved for 2 more spots soon, if Zipcar fills 'em. I'm a fan of comebacks. Perhaps especially by UC schools. Perhaps especially against USC. Whatya got?