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Car Culture

ZipCar Starts Second Annual Low-Car Diet Challenge

3:05 PM PDT on July 15, 2009

low_car_diet_1.jpgParticipants in the Low-Car Diet at Justin Hermann Plaza. One participant in a random drawing won a Swiss Bike donated by Montague Bikes. Photos: Matthew Roth

Zipcar kicked off its second annual Low-Car Diet challenge today in the 13 cities around the country where the company does business. The challenge asks participants to give up their personal cars for one month and walk, ride a bicycle, and take transit in place of driving.

In San Francisco, Zipcar provided each participant with weekly Muni passes and BART tickets as needed. Should participants need to drive at some point throughout the month, they can use a Zipcar.

Michael Uribe, General Manager for San Francisco Zipcar, stressed the economic benefit of not owning a car, saying that 19 percent of household income is spent on auto-related expenses. According to Uribe, Zipcar users spend only six percent of their household income on cars. He also said car-sharing in general is meant to chip away at the idea that owning a car is necessary, or that a family needs two cars when one is rarely used.

"Growing up, owning a car is really a rite in America," said Uribe. "This reverses that paradigm and frees up money to go back into the local economy. Also, for every one Zipcar on the road, we're replacing 15 to 20 vehicles."

Uribe himself is a recent convert to carlessness. "It took me a while to learn to live without a car," he said.Β  When asked how he finds the lifestyle, he smiled and said it was stress-free. "I don't think I'd ever own a car again. I don't have to pay for parking, I find myself exploring the city more, various neighborhoods. I find I eat better because I'm exploring different neighborhoods and buying locally grown organic foods."

"I eat a lot more," he added, but said he hasn't put on any weight given how much additional walking he is doing.

low_car_diet_2.jpgZipcar San Francisco GM Michael Uribe takes personal car keys from participants.

Zipcar held events in cities around the country, including New York and Washington DC, and as far away as London, England. In the Bay Area, more than thirty participants are taking the challenge, most from San Francisco, though some reside in the
East Bay and Dublin.

Many of the staff of the musical Wicked are participating, as is the entire staff of Virgance, a start-up social venture company that "seeks to promote world-changing activism campaigns using market-based methods."

Vice President for Business Development and Marketing at Virgance, Rahul Prakash, said, "For us to be part of the Low-Car Diet, it seemed the perfect place for us to actually practice the values that we preach on a professional level and transfer that into our personal lives."

Other local business partners include Montague Bikes (which gave away a free Swiss Bike),,, ClubOne, Green Citizen, and Cartridge World.

Wade Crowfoot, Mayor Gavin Newsom's Director of Climate Initiatives, spoke in support of the Low-Car Diet, saying that the city was in the process of replacing some of its official vehicles with car-share subscriptions, which he expected to number around twenty initially and start by the end of the year.

"We want to encourage people to participate in car-share because it reduces the amount of greenhouse gases that come from transportation--transportation related emissions are about 54 percent of our carbon-related footprint."

Crowfoot said the city wanted to give initiatives like this more attention because many people didn't know about car-sharing.

"There's still a lot of work that the city can being doing in encouraging car sharing. We've told both [Zipcar and City-Car Share] that we want to support whatever creative ideas they have."

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