This morning, nearly 800 Southern California members of the Zipcar car-sharing service received an email informing them that the company would be refocusing its business on college markets. This will reduce the overall Zipcar fleet in the Los Angeles and San Diego areas from 90 vehicles to something closer to 35. In an interview with Jalopnik, ZipCar's President and COO, Mark Norman, admitted that this would be "a tough retrenchment for a number of members in Southern California," and that the Cambridge, MA-based company, which merged with Seattle-based Flexcar last year, was bracing for a certain amount of disappointment among members who have grown accustomed to service in areas such as Downtown L.A. "It's a matter of placing bets on what we know will succeed," Norman said.
I have opined on the value of car-sharing services to the evolving Southern California transportation environment, and I'm a Zipcar member (how's that for full disclosure?), so today's announcement was of particular interest, even though I own a couple of cars and use the service far less than I did a year ago, when I lived in Downtown L.A. I can't say the news was unexpected, however. According to Norman, Zipcar is aiming for "heavy double-digit growth." He added, "Our strategy is consistent. We are making micro-adjustments to it by market. We have strength in the universities, which are microcosms of urban centers."
The problem with Zipcar's broad exposure in SoCal seemed to have simply been one of too many vehicles sitting idle in parking lots and garages. "Most people understand that we're retrenching," Norman said. "Colleges are a feeder for us. It's where a disparate mindset about transportation develops."
As for the Zipcar SoCal fleet, soon to shrink by two-thirds, vehicles that are not relocated to campuses such as USC and UCLA will be moved to other markets or sold at auction. Current members will still be able to access vehicles, which are rented by the hour, by reserving the ones that are at campus locations.