October 1, 2018
FOCUS: Transportation/Construction

Zipcar once again testing the waters in downtown Hartford

Photo | Contributed
Photo | Contributed
Downtown Hartford landlords, businesses and others are trying to recruit Zipcar.
Photo | Contributed
Zipcar riders use a “zipcard” to unlock their rentals.

What is Zipcar?

Zipcar provides over 1 million members on-demand access to more than 12,000 vehicles in over 500 cities and towns and over 600 college campuses.

Zipcar's fleet includes over 60 different makes and models, including: hybrids, SUVs, pickup trucks, luxury vehicles, minivans and cargo vans.

Zipcar riders use a mobile app to find and reserve cars.

Membership costs $70 per year or $7 per month and hourly rates start at just $7.50 per hour and $69 per day.

There's renewed energy behind a years-long effort to bring short-term car rental service Zipcar to downtown Hartford.

At a meeting in August between officials from Zipcar and local stakeholders, representatives of multiple downtown apartment complexes — including Spectra and 777 Main — offered free parking spaces at their buildings for Zipcars, according to several people who attended the meeting.

The center city has been trying to recruit Zipcar for years. In 2015, it was reported that the car-sharing service, which is seen as another transit option that could help the city become less car dependant, was ready to expand downtown, but it never happened.

The need, and potentially demand, is greater now than it was even a few years ago, supporters say, because the city has added two new major mass-transit options — the CTfastrak busway and Hartford rail line — and hundreds of new residents downtown.

"In Hartford, I've been lobbying and seeing (Zipcar) as a need and an amenity for quite some time," said Anthony Cherolis, program manager at the Center for Latino Progress, who oversees the Hartford nonprofit's Transport Hartford Academy, which aims to create an active group of informed residents who will shape future transportation developments in the region. "Existing residents are already a bright market for a car-share type opportunity and … those who are moving here into these redeveloped buildings downtown, and are students going to school at UConn, I think that's their other … possible market."

A Zipcar official said in an email that the company has no specific plans regarding downtown Hartford service. The Boston-based company currently does offer car sharing at nearby Trinity College's campus.

Several people who attended the Aug. 17 meeting confirmed that two Zipcar officials were there and did a walking tour of downtown Hartford, which Cherolis brokered. Other attendees included Jacqueline Marciano and Laurie Wadell of Spectra; Terryl Mitchell Smith of the Capital Region Development Authority; and Jennifer Cassidy of Business for Downtown Hartford.

Spectra offered Zipcar use of two parking spaces each at its boutique apartments on Constitution Plaza and its under-construction apartments on Pearl Street. Property manager Laurie Wadell said Spectra has been advocating for Zipcar to bring service downtown for more than three years.

Zipcars are parked in designated spots where riders can access them and reserve trips via a mobile app.

"We finally have some traction with Zipcar, and met with a representative that covers this region recently," Wadell said in an email. "Her communication to us was it was going to be a go as a trial. No real timeline was offered."

William Kemp, concierge and property manager at 777 Main, said management from that building offered two free parking spots to Zipcar, should they come downtown.

After the meeting, Kemp said he's hopeful the company will take them up on the offer.

"We'd love to have Zipcar on our property, and those two spots are readily available to them," Kemp said in an interview. "Some of our residents don't have vehicles, so I think there's great value in having a Zipcar partnership."

Second try

Back in 2015, the possibility of Zipcar coming to downtown looked promising. Officials from the company even told Hartford Business Journal about their intention to bring cars to the area, including possibly at Union Station, but talks fizzled.

The city hasn't had any recent discussions with Zipcar, according to a city official.

The company currently has a footprint in Hartford through its partnership with Trinity College. Zipcar first brought two of its vehicles to Trinity in 2008. Those cars are available to any customer, but Trinity students and faculty are able to join Zipcar at a discounted rate.

Zipcar also brought 10 cars to the University of Connecticut's flagship Storrs campus two years ago.

In an effort to raise awareness of the need for Zipcar service, Cherolis' Transport Hartford Academy recently surveyed nearly 200 people who live and/or work in downtown Hartford. Respondents choosing from six locations said 777 Main and Union Station would be the most convenient spots for the short-term rentals.

While specific details are slim and no firm commitment has been made by Zipcar, Cassidy of Business for Downtown Hartford said she's happy that talks seem to have been reignited. She also pointed out that the city's decision last year to remove zoning rules that set a minimum number of parking spaces for new buildings could lead to more carless residents who might use Zipcar.

"(There are) people I know who live downtown, and don't have cars," Cassidy said. "With the new zoning laws that don't require parking I think the trend will be people not having cars."

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