Alex Howard of O’Reilly Radar on Public Sector Carsharing

by Reihan Salam

An increasing number of municipal governments are embracing collaborative consumption as a strategy to restrain spending growth, as Alex Howard observes:

After finally making inroads into cities, Zipcar is saving taxpayers real money in the public sector. Technology developed by the car-sharing startup is being used in 10 cities and municipalities in 2012. If data from a pilot with the United States General Services Agency fleet pans out, the technology could be also adopted across the sprawling federal agency’s vehicles, saving tens of millions of dollars of operating expenses though smarter use of new technology.

“Now the politics are past, the data are there,” said Michael Serafino, general manager for Zipcar’s university and FastFleet programs, in a phone interview. “Collaborative consumption isn’t so difficult from other technology. We’re all used to networked laser printers. The car is just a tool to do business. People are starting to come around to the idea that it can be shared.”

As with many other city needs, vehicle fleet management in the public sector shares commonalities across all cities. In every case, municipal governments need to find a way to use the vehicles that the city owns more efficiently to save scarce funds.

The data is particularly valuable as it has allowed some cities to dramatically reduce fleet size without unduly sacrificing mobility. And it is this reduction in fleet size that generates the most savings. To state the obvious, we’re seeing the rise of a “mobility-as-a-service” mindset, in which firms and individuals and governments will focus on the lowest cost approach (factoring in the time-cost, naturally) for getting from here to there rather than privileging any particular mode choice.