The Chainlink

Zipcar Aims to Enhance the Cyclist Lifestyle

By Brett Ratner

When you think of Zipcar car share service, you probably think of...well...cars.

If you take a peek under Zipcar's hood, however, you'll find that bicycles play a huge role in their organization. This role encompasses not only how the company operates, but also how many of its employees get to work, and even how Zipcar wants its car share service to fit in context with a healthy, practical, environmentally-friendly lifestyle.

The Chainlink recently visited Zipcar's Chicago HQ to learn more about their use of bikes in day-to-day operations, as well as their efforts to enhance the cyclist lifestyle with practical, cost-effective alternative transportation.

When you arrive at their downtown offices, among the first things you notice is a bike rack, full of well-ridden steeds, indoors, next to a row of cubicles. One of the whips, a blue LeMond road bike, belongs to Zipcar Regional General Manager Charles Stephens.

Zipcar Chicago Fleet Coordinator Rudy Gonzalez slides his bike into one of Zipcar HQ's indoor bike racks.

Stephens, who uses a bicycle as his primary method of getting to work, said that even though Zipcar is in the business of sharing cars, its service completely makes sense for cyclists. In particular, Stephens said, it offers a great option for cyclists who have sold their cars in an effort to save money, reduce their carbon footprint, simplify their lives, etc.

Stephens likened it to dropping your cable television service.

"When you get rid of cable TV, you need to replace that content from a variety of sources, whether that be Netflix, Hulu, the Internet, and so forth," Stephens said. "Once you make the decision to 'cut the cable' with your car, you have to adopt a variety of transportation alternatives. Zipcar goes hand in hand with cycling, public transportation and walking. It's very synergistic."

Stephens explained that for the cyclist, Zipcar offers a great option for those times you need to haul larger/heavier cargo, you have out of town guests you need to drive around, or want to take your bike somewhere outside of the city to ride.

"It's going to meet people's need for alternatives," Stephens said. "People who are adopting a bicycle lifestyle are predisposed to adopting a car sharing lifestyle."

Stephens said Zipcar walks the walk (or is that rides the ride?) with regard to a forward-thinking attitude toward cycling. For example, Zipcar employees who regularly ride their bikes to work get reimbursed for bike related expenses like maintenance and tires. Partially as a result of their programs and policies, almost 50 percent of Zipcar Chicago's employees commute by bike.

Zipcar's online magazine, called "Ziptopia," offers a lot of bike-related content, including this article about Chicago's Heritage Bicycles, and this article advocating for bike-friendly design in car-centric cities.

Perhaps the most shining example of Zipcar's bike-centric thinking is their team of Fleet Techs.

Zipcar's Fleet Techs are responsible for handling the day-to-day upkeep of Zipcar's vehicles. These services can include changing flat tires, refilling washer fluid, charging batteries, tidying up the interiors, and bringing them in for service.

To get to the cars (12 months per year, regardless of weather), the Fleet Techs rely exclusively on their bicycles.

"If you're on a bike, you can get in and out of places quickly," said Zipcar Fleet Tech Cory Norris.

We caught up with Norris as he was about to move a red Subaru Impreza from a spot in Wrigleyville to the Pilsen area. Since in this instance he needed to drive the car to the new location, Norris simply folded the rear seats down and stashed his bike in the back.

Zipcar Chicago Fleet Tech Cory Norris poses next to one of Zipcar's automobiles, this one located near Wrigley Field.

Norris was quick to point out that a high percentage of Zipcars are hatchbacks, which make them able to transport a bike without the need for an external rack, or disassembling the bike.

"They're really convenient," Norris said.

Norris demonstrates the Impreza hatchback's ability to swallow up a bike without needing to remove a wheel.

Hannah Parsons, another Fleet Tech, loves the fact that she gets to ride her bike as part of her job.

"Using my bike for work makes me feel fit and free because it gets me out of the house breathing the air and being a part of the world," Parsons said. "I love it because it distracts me from my monkey brain, gives me purpose and heightens the satisfaction of my already physical job by a lot. Plus my bike is one of my best friends and totally gets me."

Hannah Parsons, also a Zipcar Chicago Fleet Tech, proudly displays the bike she uses to travel between locations.

While visiting Zipcar's Chicago office, we also sat down with Colleen Feeny, who works in marketing.

We asked Feeny (a self-proclaimed "tree hugger") how she'd respond to hard-core cyclists who are skeptical of Zipcar's place in a healthy, environmentally-conscious lifestyle. Feeny was happy to whip out some eye-opening stats:

  • According to Zipcar's research, each Zipcar in their nationwide fleet eliminates the need for up to 15 personally owned vehicles, reducing congestion and alleviating parking challenges in the cities in which Zipcar operates.
  • Zipcar members report savings of up to $600 per month compared to car ownership.
  • Nearly 30% of Chicago Zipcar Members have gotten rid of at least one personally owned car after joining.
  • 82% of Chicago Zipcar Members bike the same or more since joining Zipcar.
  • 90% of Chicago Zipcar Members walk the same or more since joining Zipcar

“I really do believe that Zipcar and cycling go hand in hand," Feeny said. "Cutting the cord with personal car ownership is better for our bodies and our planet. Zipcar is here when you occasionally need an extra set of wheels.”

Zipcar is partnering with Active Transportation Alliance in support of Bike to Work Week (June 12-19). Visit their Bike Chicago page to learn more.

About the Author

Brett Ratner (brett@thechainlink.org) began commuting by bike in 2005. Shortly thereafter, his interest in cycling expanded to century rides, bike camping and trail riding. The competition bug bit in 2012 and nowadays he races cyclocross, track, mountain bikes, criteriums and gravel for The Bonebell.

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Comment by JustWill on June 25, 2015 at 9:25am

This story got promoted on Bicycling's site.

Comment by BritBoy on June 19, 2015 at 1:24pm

It'd be good if the cars were fitted with bicycle racks- that way I could cycle to pick up the car, use it for whatever errands I need (likely involving the trunk/rear seats that would otherwise be taken up by my bicycle if I had to take it with me), then drop it off and ride home. I guess I could always lock my bicycle up wherever I pick the zip car up from - driving to drop off my bicycle/then doing car errands/then driving home to pick up the bike/then dropping off the car and riding home seems a little too much effort...

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