Whether their motivation is saving almost $600 a year in parking fees or decreasing their carbon footprints, UI students have an affordable, practical option to having a car on campus.
The UI transportation department, the Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District, and the cities of Champaign and Urbana last year began to offer the community a car-sharing program called Zipcar. The company, which now has about 500 members in the area, allows users to pay for the use of a car only when they need it.
“We want people to give up a car,” said Morgan B. Johnston, a transportation demand management coordinator in the UI Facilities and Services division.
“Don’t bring a car to campus – there’s absolutely no need for a student to have a car on campus,” Johnston said.
Johnston said the program, also available to UI faculty and staff members and community members, is gaining in popularity and has 10 cars available for rent in increments as short as a half-hour or as long as four days.
The combination of transportation options available to students makes paying several hundreds of dollars to park unnecessary. In addition to Zipcar, the campus offers free MTD bus access and a friendly environment for walkers and bikers, Johnston said.
Undergraduates are catching on to the Zipcar idea.
Christie Gill, 21, a junior in the College of Applied Health Sciences from Chicago, has found that not having a car on campus is no problem.
“I take advantage of the Zipcar when I need to travel somewhere immediately and quick,” she said. “Since I don’t have a car it really comes in handy to rent one so fast and easy, especially since there are a few locations on campus.”
To rent a Zipcar, Gill reserves one online. She travels by bus to the Illinois Terminal, the intermodal transportation hub in downtown Champaign, to claim her car. Her membership card unlocks the car in the lot. The keys are inside each car.
Gill says the program offers considerable value for the cost. Members pay $35 up front, which can pay for $35 worth of rental fees for the first month.
Most car rentals would require the lessee to be 21 years old, but Zipcar members can be as young as 18 if they’re UI students. However, those under 21 have to have held a driver’s license for at least two years. Zipcar members also avoid paying down payments and insurance fees of $200 or more, she added.
“And you don’t have to worry about gas because it’s already included,” Gill said. Gas is paid for with a credit card kept inside each car.
Zipcar membership also covers insurance costs and precludes car maintenance and repairs. Members pay any parking fees associated with their usage.
“I will say that having a Zipcar is very convenient,” Gill said. “It’s just paying the rental fee that is the disadvantage. Everything else is a positive advantage in having a membership.”
Huong Phu, 22, of Wheaton, Ill., a senior in the College of Applied Health Sciences, usually gets around town by bus. There are times, however, when she finds that she needs a car.
“I take advantage of it when I want to go somewhere that the bus would either be inconvenient or it just doesn’t take me there,” she said.
“I also use it when I have to do multiple errands by Market Street, or just buy groceries – since it’s a pain to walk back from County Market on campus to my place or from the bus stop.”
She also has taken advantage of her Zipcar membership when she has out-of-town visitors and getting around by bus is difficult. And she uses it for occasional trips to the Tuscola outlet mall, about 30 minutes south of campus.
Phu has not had a car on campus, but feels that Zipcar provides most of the convenience of having one without incurring so much extra cost. Sometimes she has to adjust her plans to the car availability.
“It’s a good program,” she said. “It’s a great alternative to having a car on campus. Even if I had a car on campus, I don’t think I would use one that much. With Zipcar, I only use it when I really need it.”
Most Zipcar locales are in larger cities, including Boston, Chicago and New York.
The campus atmosphere also provides an appropriate location.
“This can save students so much money by not bringing their own car,” Johnston said. “They still have all the convenience of using a car when they need it and they’re not paying for something to sit in a parking lot when they’re at school.”