Federal employees will soon be taking the new economy for a test drive, one hour at a time.
Zipcar Inc., the Boston-based car-sharing brand, is one of four companies that will provide hourly car rentals to federal employees on the job under a pilot program announced Friday.
The one-year program is part of an effort to slim down the federal government’s massive motor pool, which, not counting military and postal vehicles, numbered more than 247,500 in fiscal year 2013.
Many of those vehicles are used only sporadically, yet are expensive to maintain, insure, and fuel. The government hopes that by using Zipcar and similar services from Enterprise CarShare, Hertz, and Carpingo, agencies will be able to save money by reducing expensive taxi rides, getting rid of some vehicles, and buying fewer new ones. Decreasing the number of vehicles they own could also help agencies meet environmental goals.
“The big benefit is that these federal agencies won’t have to deal with maintaining their own fleet,” said Zipcar spokeswoman Jennifer Mathews. “We’ll be taking a lot of cars off the road.”
The program also offers convenience to employees, who will be able to drive newer vehicles that can be picked up from many more locations.
Current Zipcar customers need not fret — the company insists it has plenty of cars to go around. “We’re very well-suited to provide as many cars as they need,” Mathews said. “We’ll be monitoring usage carefully and adding or moving cars as necessary.”
Unlike traditional rental agencies, Zipcar keeps small groups of its vehicles parked at lots throughout each city it operates in. Using the company’s website or mobile app, customers can find a car near them, reserve it for the time they need, then use a company-issued card to unlock and start the vehicle. Federal employees will use a special login so their agency can track the cost.
Zipcar’s hourly rental price, typically between $8 and $16, includes insurance and fuel; the cost for a whole day is about $80. Roughly 870,000 people in North America and Europe have signed up for Zipcar, a subsidiary of Avis Budget Group.
Several federal agencies already have their own contracts with Zipcar and similar services, spending a total of $465,000 on car-sharing in fiscal year 2013. Zipcar had also participated in a pilot program for the General Services Administration in 2011 and 2012. However, the new program will study the possibility of having a car-sharing program across all of the federal government.
The pilot will be managed by the GSA, which helps oversee procurement and contracts for agencies. For now, it will be available only to employees of certain agencies in Boston, Chicago, New York City, and Washington, D.C., who can rent cars for up to one day. An agency spokeswoman said the GSA is in the process of deciding which agencies will participate in the pilot, which is expected to begin in late November.
There are no firm benchmarks for success, the spokeswoman said, explaining that the pilot is intended to measure how much money car-sharing could save. She said she could not put a dollar figure on the deals the agency struck with car-sharing companies.