House Staff Get Zipcars, Flexcars

Posted October 26, 2007 at 6:14pm

House staffers who arrive at work via foot, bus, Metro or train are about to get a new option should they need to run errands or head to a meeting away from Capitol Hill.

Chief Administrative Officer Dan Beard is instituting a 90-day pilot program that will bring the vehicle-share companies Flexcar and Zipcar to Capitol Hill.

Four cars — three of them hybrids — are expected to be stationed in the Rayburn House Office Building garage, available for House staff who do not have immediate access to a vehicle during the workday, said Paul Lozito, director of service management for the CAO.

“This is a great alternative if you don’t have a car,” Beard said, adding that the program could prompt many staffers who currently drive to work to take public transit.

“Their feeling is, ‘If I’m caught in the middle of the day here and I need a car, I don’t have one,’” Beard said. “This sort of meets that need.”

As Flexcar’s Ryan Robertson put it: “We’re that ‘just in case’ scenario.”

Instituting a car-share program isn’t just for convenience-sake — it was among the recommendations made in the CAO’s Green the Capitol Initiative to help improve employee transit options and reduce transportation energy use.

“It’s very good for the environment,” said Ellice Perez, the regional vice president for Zipcar’s Washington, D.C., operations. “To be able to commute in via public transportation or through carpooling is part of what we are trying to accomplish. … But Zipcar provides some flexibility.”

The vehicle-share program will kick off on Thursday, as CAO officials will offer sign-ups at lunchtime in the Rayburn and Longworth cafeterias, Lozito said. Both companies also had sign-up sheets available during the CAO’s Green Transportation Expo, which was held Thursday in the Cannon House Office Building.

Officials will monitor the usage of the cars and House employee experiences over the next three months to decide if vehicle-sharing is something worth keeping on Capitol Hill, Lozito said.

“My guess is, based on the kind of reception they got at the Green expo [Thursday], there are going to be a lot of people who are going to use it,” Beard said.

Both companies have cars available throughout the city, including many locations in the Capitol Hill neighborhood. About one-third of the Flexcar fleet is hybrid, Robertson said; about 10 percent of the Zipcar fleet is, according to Perez.

But one advantage that comes with using cars stored in the Rayburn garage is that the police-patrolled House office building is safe, Lozito said.

“So if someone brings back a car late at night, or even in the dark now that winter [is coming] upon us, there’s safety,” Lozito said. “To us, it seems like an ideal place.”

Employees also will get a unique advantage if they join the House vehicle-share program, according to Robertson.

Staffers, like other Flexcar and Zipcar members, will have access to vehicles in their own community and throughout the D.C. region, Robertson noted. But only House employees will have access to the fleet available in Rayburn.

Plus, application fees typically charged by the companies are expected to be waived for House staffers, Robertson said. Employees who check out vehicles will only need to pay the normal hourly rates, which range from about $5 to $8 an hour to approximately $50 a day.

Staffers will need to go through a background check to make sure they are properly licensed and have an acceptable driving record, Lozito said.

“We want to make sure that we can vouch for the people should they have any accidents,” Robertson said.

Perez noted that it is often difficult for some people to give up their cars when they first arrive in a city such as the District, but there are advantages to doing so, she said.

Company surveys have found Zipcar users save about $400 a month when they get rid of their cars. Plus, there are the positive lifestyle changes that come with getting rid of your car.

“You become much more organized, planning for your errands and running to your meetings, because you have a time reserved,” she said. “You’re much more efficient.”