Zipcar Car-Sharing Hitting Knoxville's Streets Early Next Year

Last summer there was some consternation in certain parts when it was announced that Chattanooga had landed a riverfront bike-sharing program. "Why can't we have bike-sharing, too?" people groused.

Well, it may not be bikes, but it might actually be better—starting early next year, Knoxville will have Zipcar car-sharing both downtown and on the University of Tennessee's campus. Oh, and we're getting it before Chattanooga.

City of Knoxville transportation planner Kelley Segars has been working for a couple of years to bring car-sharing to town, and the city approved a contract with Zipcar last year after issuing an RFP. Once City Council approves some minor ordinance changes—such as allowing police to tow and impound a car illegally parked in a Zipcar space, which should happen by the end of next week—the company will work toward getting everything up and running early next year—possibly even by the end of January.

Segars says there will be two Zipcar spaces downtown, both on the end of the Gay Street viaduct closest to the 100 Block. There will also be two Zipcars on 20th Street near the Andy Holt Tower.

Car-sharing is different from your average car rental because it's designed for just an hour or two of use. You pay a membership fee to belong to Zipcar, which gives you a keycard to access the car, and then you reserve the car online for the hours you need it—and during that time, only your specific keycard will open the car, so you never have to worry about someone else swiping it if you've got a reservation. You also pay an hourly fee to rent the car, which includes gas and insurance; that rate can fluctuate depending on the time of day or if it's a weekend. And unlike rental car companies, you don't have to be 25—anyone over 21 can rent a Zipcar, and if you're a UT student, you only have to be 18.

Although Zipcar has a number of university partnerships throughout the country, all the cars in Knoxville are via the city partnership and as such will be parked on city-maintained streets on campus and will not be restricted to use by students, faculty, and staff.

Segars says the city received a federal transportation grant of $115,000 to help get the project going, which will be used for marketing and to get patrons a membership fee waiver (normally $60 or so) for the first year.

"We see it as a really great tool … that helps people think about transportation choices," Segars says. She adds that with the addition of Zipcars, some two-car households downtown may be able to get rid of one vehicle and other people, knowing that a car is available to them downtown if they need it to run errands at lunch, could then take the bus to work instead.

There will just be the four cars to begin with, but Segars says the company is interested in adding more if business takes off. Future locations for Zipcars are likely to include Clinch Avenue near the East Tennessee History Center and on Volunteer Boulevard on the UT campus.