Car-sharing company Zipcar has expanded quickly in its four years in Baltimore, scaling up from an initial fleet of 27 cars to more than 200 vehicles.
The Boston-based company announced Monday the opening of a new office in Harbor East, next to a new on-street city bike corral. The company has more than doubled its workforce to seven employees, said spokeswoman Lindsay Wester, and expanded throughout the city from its beginnings around the Homewood campus of the Johns Hopkins University.
"It's actually been pretty remarkable," Zipcar President Kaye Ceille said of the company's rapid local expansion from university campuses to central commercial districts and fast-growing neighborhoods in Southeast Baltimore.
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said the company has helped to make Baltimore "a more sustainable, a more clean, and a more attractive city" by linking with the Charm City Circulator and other transit infrastructure to provide "convenient and effective ways to crisscross the region."
Ceille said the company, when scouting potential new cities to begin service, now uses Baltimore as a "model," promoting the company's collaboration with universities, businesses and community groups here.
Zipcar members have access to company-owned vehicles that are parked in local neighborhoods and can be reserved for an hour of errands or longer trips. Most members pay an hourly rate for use, on top of a $60 annual membership fee.
According to a survey of Baltimore users, more than 30 percent said they decided not to buy a car when they joined Zipcar. Many said membership reduced the number of miles they drive annually, and that they walked more. Zipcar officials cited studies showing that carbon emissions have been reduced by car-sharing programs.
City officials also estimate the service has saved taxpayers as much as $75 million in parking costs for 3,000 personal vehicles that would be on city streets were it not for Zipcar's presence.
Rawlings-Blake, who arrived at the Harbor East ribbon-cutting with her customary driver and security detail, said she is "jealous" of the spontaneity of travel that Zipcar users enjoy.
"Sometimes I want to go rogue and go out and rent a Zipcar, because it looks so fun," she said.
City Councilman James B. Kraft, who represents congested Southeast Baltimore, said he appreciates that Zipcar asks local communities where they want vehicles to be available — and then follows their suggestions.
Zipcar vehicles are still largely contained to the city's more affluent neighborhoods, but Wester said the company is always looking to reach more residents and offer affordable options, though officials didn't say where they would expand next.
Zipcar operates in multiple countries and hundreds of locations in the United States. It has about 860,000 global members, thousands of whom live and work in the Baltimore area, officials said.
Rawlings-Blake said Zipcar may not be a viable option for some residents, but that car-sharing is only one piece of a broader plan to expand transportation options for everyone — including the construction of a new east-west light rail line the city is gearing up for.
"Zipcar isn't for everyone," she said. "That's why we're fighting like hell for the Red Line."