The founder of Zipcar helps re-teach a valuable kindergarten lesson: the importance of sharing.
Thu, Apr 16, 2009 at 03:41 PM
Robin Chase, co-founder of Zipcar, believes that, at least where transportation is concerned, people are willing to cooperate. Now that Zipcar is thriving, Chase has turned her attention to Goloco, a new online ride-sharing network. Plenty caught up with Chase to talk about driving, sharing, and the changes Americans should expect to see as the lone-man commute starts to look less and less feasible.
Have Americans forgotten how to share?
I don’t think Americans have forgotten how to share, and now as the cost of owning your own car has increased, the desire to share has gone up. We feel good when we share, but there’s all this baggage associated with the word ‘sharing’—the feeling that you have to wait your turn. There’s this sense of sacrifice. With Zipcar and with Goloco, I really want to turn that around. Goloco means go crazy, go location to location with local locomotion, go low cost, low CO2. Goloco. It’s been quite fun. Sharing isn’t a sacrifice. It’s a pleasure, and it’s in your own best interest. Driving produces 20 percent of our CO2 emissions, so it’s a place where you can make a big difference. You don’t have to go out and put yourself on the waiting list for a Prius. You can start sharing cars and rides tomorrow, and you don’t have to put any money into it. It’s low-cost and high-impact.
Where do you see Goloco thriving?
Interestingly, I think that the center of gravity is not going to be in cities. A friend of mine lives in Montana, and he’s aching to try it because it’s 30 miles to the grocery store. It would be a boon to him to be able to park at the corner intersection, hop in the car with a neighbor, and go the 30 miles together. We’ve had conferences using Goloco closed groups to get people from airports to the conference location. We’ve heard from a couple of big churches. A whole bunch of activities and communities that lend themselves to car-sharing: sporting events, bands, tri-athletes going to meets.
In an ideal world, would anyone own a private car?
With increasing urbanization, increasing world population, and increasing cost of car ownership, I can predict with pretty near certainty that in 25 years the idea of two cars in every garage will be a fantasy. But I think that our mobility will be improved though programs like Zipcar and Goloco; 50 percent of Americans don’t own a car or can’t drive, but right now most of the country is set up so that the car is the only option.
But Americans are so attached to their cars.
[Laughs] When I launched Zipcar, the people who didn’t invest told me, ‘Americans love their cars; their egos are tied up with their cars; they’ll never do it.’ One told me ‘the second I’d find a used potato chip bag in my Zipcar I’d never use one again.’ But people just want to get around in a nice car and feel good about it, and that doesn’t mean you have to own your own, and it doesn’t mean you have to park it downstairs. I hope that eventually there will be such a density of Goloco users that when I leave the mall, I know that at least one person in that monstrous parking lot is going within a couple blocks of my house in the next ten minutes. And I’ll be able to find that person on the fly.
How long will it take to get there?
I think Americans aren’t quite there yet. We haven’t really understood the price pressures. Right now parking is enormously underpriced, for example. If we think of the value of real estate in New York or Boston, and the cost of parking, it’s a total mismatch. Right now we over-consume cars because they are so vastly underpriced. Once we adjust the price to match the cost, we’ll want to go by transit, go by bicycle, share cars. If you think it’s bad now, paying 19 percent of your income, what are you going to think when it’s 25 percent? The US government can’t control fossil fuel prices. Everyone’s going to be doing carbon taxes. It kind of breaks my heart—the disconnect between what the everyday citizen wants from transportation today, and what they’re going to be begging for in 10 years. We need to think cleverly and start making some infrastructure changes, so they don’t have to beg in 10 years.
Story by Tobin Hack. This article originally appeared in Plenty in June 2007.