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Zipcar pulls up in downtown Palo Alto

Original post made on Aug 28, 2014

Palo Alto's carless commuters and residents now have their pick from 10 available-for-rent Zipcars, thanks to the car-sharing company's expansion into the city's downtown garages Thursday.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Thursday, August 28, 2014, 3:48 PM

Comments (36)

Posted by More-Craziness-From-City-Hall
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 28, 2014 at 3:56 pm

What happened to all those share-a-bikes? Didn't the transportation people claim that those fancy, expensive, bikes were going to solve everone's problems, and save the planet too?

So now that the share-a-bike program has become "settled science", we're going to drop ten share-a-car cars on the scene too?


Posted by Mike
a resident of University South
on Aug 28, 2014 at 4:14 pm

Other than being on the city council how can I get a designated parking spot located at the Civic Center Garage?

Posted by resident
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 28, 2014 at 4:40 pm

The bike share program was just a pilot to see if they could be successfully installed and maintained. There are far too few bikes and stations in Palo Alto for general purpose use. Hopefully, bike share will be expanded into the city's neighborhoods at some point.

Hopefully car share will be deploying a large enough system to meet their demand.

Posted by Ever Notice?
a resident of Professorville
on Aug 28, 2014 at 5:42 pm

Some of us have noticed that more than a few Zipcar drivers are rather bad drivers--enough to make one wonder if they drive so infrequently that they are seriously and dangerously out-of-practice.

On the way to work this a.m., there was a Zipcar Prius which appeared to have been in a bad accident, on the back of an Ellison's tow truck, headed north on Alma.


Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 28, 2014 at 5:45 pm

My own feeling is that these Zipcars will only serve those who live within walking distance of one of the garages in which they are housed. Who else would benefit from a share car service on a regular basis?

For the rest of us who live and frequent downtown, we will not be using them. To use this service, someone would need to know in advance that they need a car to belong to the service and then be able to access it without the use of a car. I suppose that someone could arrive on a bike or on a train or even a bus to use the service, but that sounds unlikely.

The only people who would benefit would be those who live close and decide that they have no need of car ownership with this service on their doorstep for the few occasions they may need a car, like once a week grocery shopping or a trip to the coast.

Otherwise, who else will it serve? Or am I missing something?

Posted by Robert
a resident of another community
on Aug 28, 2014 at 6:42 pm


Yeah sounds right, but the great thing about services and products that aren't convenient to you personally, is that you're under no obligation to use them!

Posted by ChrisC
a resident of Community Center
on Aug 28, 2014 at 7:13 pm

I'd bet these cars are quite useful for out of town visitors who take a train from the airport to a downtown hotel, and only occasionally need a car.

Posted by common sense
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 28, 2014 at 9:48 pm

Why is the city giving a private corporation, ZipCars free parking? Anyone else would have to pay $17.50/day or $6,500/year for a parking space. 10 spaces means $65,000/year.

And when residents want a parking permit program, the city wants to charge the residents for the parking permit - because the city doesn't have the budget. But the city does have the budget to spend $4 million dollar to put in a glass conference room in the city hall lobby.

Another case of Council member Shepard, who appears in the photo, catering to special interests.

Posted by Fred
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 28, 2014 at 10:01 pm

An annual parking permit costs $466, not $6500. I don't know if Zipcar pays for the spaces or not. I would think the idea would be that people could take the train or express bus to work but have access to a car for errands, lunch, etc. That's pretty much the Zipcar model in downtown business districts.

Posted by common sense
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 28, 2014 at 10:27 pm

Fred @ Barron Park,

The rate of $466/year are for employees of members of the Downtown Parking Assessment District, and permits are sold not valid for Lots H & N. Here is what is posted on the City of Palo Alto Website:

All Day Visitor Parking
Visitors may purchase a one-day permit. Permits are valid in all off-street parking lots and garages. All-day permits are not valid for on-street parking spaces.

All day permits may be purchased at Palo Alto Civic Center, 250 Hamilton Avenue on the first floor at Revenue Collections, or the first level of the Bryant Street and Cowper/Webster garages.
The cost is $17.50/day for downtown area and $7.00/day for California Avenue business district. Day permits for the California Business District may only be purchased at the Civic Center, Revenue Collections at this time.

Construction worker vehicles require a special on-street parking permit that can be purchased at the City of Palo Alto Development Center, 285 Hamilton Avenue and the cost for this permit is $76.00/space per week.

Permit Parking for Employers and Employees

Downtown Business District
Employees of businesses in the downtown parking assessment district may purchase quarterly or annual permits for long-term parking in any of the nine off-street parking lots and garages. Parking permits are issued for these locations and are $466.00/year, $146.50/quarter or $17.50/day:

Civic Center Garage (CC)
High/Alma South Garage (R)
High/Alma North Garage (Q)
Bryant/Lytton Garage (S/L)
Webster/Cowper Garage (W/C)

and the following surface lots

Gilman/Bryant Lot (E)
Gilman/Waverley Lot (G)
Lytton/Waverley Lot (K)
Lytton/Kipling Lot (T)

Permits are also available at a reduced rate of $75.00/year or $26.00/quarter at the Sheraton Lot (X) in signed permit parking area and at the 800 High Street lot, permits are $250.00/year or $75.00/quarter.

Transferable Permits are also available for the following garages: Webster Cowper (WC), Bryant Lytton (SL), and Civic Center (CC). Transferable permits are sold to one individual and can be used on multiple vehicles. Transferable permits are sold at a two-quarter maximum. Visit Revenue Collections on the first floor of the Palo Alto Civic Center or call (650) 329-2252 for more information.

Posted by bry
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 29, 2014 at 6:54 am

I have been a zipcar user for many years. It's a very convinient service specially for those who don't need a car on a permanent basis. I use Zip car when I visit cities where I don't need a car most of the time and in particular when I am in another town frequently. Zipcar leases spaces from the cities, doesn't park for free and has given me consistent good service.You are not forced to use it if you don't want it, but please hold the negativity, Maybe it's not for you, but the world doesn't revolve around you, did you notice?

Posted by bry
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 29, 2014 at 6:58 am

Dear Ever notice,

As a Zipcar user who owns two vehicles and uses Zipcar as a rental, only by the hour, when I need I can assure you that Zipcar doesn't have more bad drivers than the average rent-a-car. Why speak about things you don't know about? I see, if it doesn't please YOU it's bad is it?

Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 29, 2014 at 7:21 am

I think Zipcar is a great service for those who use it and I know many young professionsals who do use it as an alternative to car ownership. I think it is something that will become more and more popular for certain demographics.

My problem (negatives) is twofold. One this was something that was sprung on Palo Alto residents with no notice. Why was all this hidden until a day or two before? Was any market research done to see if we had the right type of demographics near the car lots to make this a useful enterprise?

Secondly, and this is my main concern, we are now losing parking spaces to these cars. These dedicated parking spots will always be out of the pool for general parking. We already have confusing color coded permit holders only spots which can't be used by the general public and whenever I go downtown I see all these vacant spaces which can't be used by occasional parkers. Now there are going to be zipcar spaces, which whether they have a car parked in them or not, are no longer in the pool of available spaces for occasional parkers.

We are looking for solutions to parking downtown. At this stage, I can't see how losing spaces will help with our parking solution.

Posted by bry
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 29, 2014 at 7:56 am

Resident, you are not losing anything. Zipcar is taking cars off the streets and off parking spaces just by being used by those don't have a car available here and in considering one decided that they have Zipcar instead. There is no need for a study.It's up to Zipcar to assess what the needs are. If it doesn't work, the company, not the city will lose money, though my bet is that they won't.Did you feel the need to ask for a study when
someone wants to sell something? of course, not. whoo is assuming the risk...?
Not the city.

Posted by Mike
a resident of University South
on Aug 29, 2014 at 9:17 am

@common sense Why can downtown residents buy a quarterly permit to park downtown?

Posted by why the secrecy
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Aug 29, 2014 at 9:39 am

I too wonder why the stealth beginning. There was no news about this, no discussion. Looks like the City Manager's green washing effort. But interesting that with all the hoopla, that this was kept quiet.

A few years ago a company called GoCarLink located here, it wasn't used much and it closed.

Posted by Elizabeth
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 29, 2014 at 10:16 am

I've only read a few comments, but to "More-craziness" inquiring as to why there needs to be this zipcar opportunity when there was the bike option...

When was the last time you hauled a large load of groceries home on a bike... and maybe in the pouring rain (I know, that's a bit rare these days), but the fact is there are times when a short term car usage would be very useful.

My son is a great alternative commuter using bike, bus and train, but he's signed up because there are times when a car would be a great fourth option... like for grocery shopping (he has his own place) or for a date.

I think it's a great idea. I only skimmed the article, but hopefully the drop-off and pick up location(s) won't be restricted to the downtown zone. It would be great to have one in midtown or south Palo Alto as well.

Posted by wondering
a resident of Portola Valley
on Aug 29, 2014 at 12:11 pm


hey uc berkeley students, faculty, and staff: join for only $15 (you save $10 in the 1st year, thanks to ford!)

Why are the prices in PA different from Berkeley?
Web Link

Posted by resident
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 29, 2014 at 12:32 pm

Common Sense @ Midtown brings up an good point - what is Zipcar paying for a 24 hour/day, 365 days/year parking space? Note that regular parking permits does not allow parking overnight, and a permit does not give the permit holder the right to a specific parking space. Those rights means that the value of the parking space should be more than the cost of a normal parking fee.

Also there was alot discussion about allowing homeless people to park overnight. Shouldn't someone living out of their car be allowed to have the same opportunity to a parking space as a for-profit company like Zipcars? (note Zipcars is owned by Avis, a $7 billion market cap company).

Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 29, 2014 at 1:30 pm

This looks like an attempt by the PACC to camouflage the problems created by out of control development, with some "shareing economy" BS.

How to do it... horse-trade with Zipcar, the same way they horse-trade with the developers under PC!

Posted by resident
a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 29, 2014 at 3:15 pm

I think that Zip cars is great idea and wish that there will be more locations to pick one up.
California Ave.? Hey, I will get rid of my car.

Posted by Donald
a resident of South of Midtown
on Aug 29, 2014 at 4:28 pm

Zipcar has been on Stanford campus for years, and it serves that community well. Our household has only one car and my wife and son use Zipcar on the infrequent occasion when we need two. It is a great service if you only need a car for a few hours. Longer than that it is cheaper to rent a car for the day, but you need to be 25 years old for that, while Zipcar does not have that restriction.

Posted by common sense
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 29, 2014 at 7:18 pm

The City Manager & Mayor Shepard should not be committing city resources (parking spaces) to a $7 billion private company without the approval of the city council. Perhaps the city council would approve of this as the best use of land, or they might want to have considered opening up for solicitation to get the best value for the city, or perhaps they city council would have wanted to use the parking spaces to support vehicle dwellers.

Bad form of governance from the City Manager & Mayor Shepard.

Posted by No Va
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 29, 2014 at 7:46 pm

There was a blurb on CBS News approximately 10 days ago on Zipcar and its rival, Uber. The subject was the high insurance rates that both companies must pay. Those rates may soon push both companies out of business, as they currently have zero profits.

Could it be that Zipcar is getting free parking to HELP them?

Incidentally, Zipcar and Uber reportedly ( by CBS news) pay high insurance rates due to high risks by under experienced drivers using their services.

Posted by More-Craziness-From-City-Hall
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 31, 2014 at 9:15 am

> When was the last time you hauled a large load
> of groceries home on a bike.

It’s easily done with a child carrier—which holds groceries just as conveniently as a child.

> but the fact is there are times when a short term
> car usage would be very useful.

Your rain example only works if you live a very short distance from where a large supply of these cars are located. You’re not suggesting walking a mile in the rain to get to a zipcar are you? What about local buses? Most of these buses are empty most of the day.

The issue here is why is the City involved with this private company, which clearly can not supply thousands of zipcars for all of Palo Alto?

If the zipcar concept is viable—then it should be able to operate without any City help at all. Given the general failure of the rent-a-bike concept—adding ten more cars to the road doesn’t seem like an idea that is going to take thousands of cars off the roads.

(Oh—the claim that there weren’t enough bikes available to make the rent-a-bike program a success would seem to be offset by the fact these racks are rarely empty. If the program were that successful, then it would pay for itself, and more bikes could be bought. Bikes are not that expensive.)

One of the local papers should investigate what the quid-pro-quo from zipcar is for City help.

Posted by Anybody there
a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 31, 2014 at 6:31 pm

Zipcar will not be viable for long. Their operating costs are outpacing their profits, according to the WSJ, Barron's, and other financial publications. The company that rents out the cars with the pink mustaches is in the red as well

Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 31, 2014 at 9:38 pm

The pink mustaches are Lyft, similar to Uber, not rentals. Like taxis, they do not occupy valuable parking spots. And they also come with their own designated driver -- I see plenty of Uber cars (blue U in the window) downtown on Friday and Saturday nights. The pink mustaches of last spring seem to have disappeared lately. Maybe Lyft is concentrating on other geographic markets. Zipcar is not suitable if you like a few glasses of wine with dinner.

Posted by bry
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 1, 2014 at 7:43 am

Zip car not profitable?
I have been a zip car driver since 2008. They
Haven't folded yet and they are profitable. They are an answer to a need.I pay l think it's 50 dollars/year since I'm neither faculty nor a student and any time I use the service I have pay I insurance depending on use from 9 dollars per use period to as little as 4 dollars

Posted by Dory
a resident of Community Center
on Sep 1, 2014 at 8:15 am

I appreciate that the City is trying to explore options to reduce downtown commuter traffic. Now downtown workers can ride the train (or bike if they live close enough) to work but use a Zipcar if they need to drive to a meeting during the day. If 3 people use a single Zipcar at 3 different times during the day, that's 2 fewer cars parked in the city lots, and it's 3 fewer cars coming in/out a rush hour. Multiply that by as much as 10 and that starts to really add up. On top of that, residents who live near the downtown area could decide to keep one fewer family car on the streets since now they have easy access to a car-sharing service. This sounds worth a try to me! Once Zipcar sees the demand, hopefully this will expand to other parts of the city as well.

Posted by More-Craziness-From-City-Hall
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 1, 2014 at 11:16 am

> Multiply that by as much as 10 and that starts to really add up.

No, it doesn't!

The impact of these ten z-cars will be less than someone's tossing a grain of sand in the ocean.

Plz--Get a grip!

Posted by No fan of city hall
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 2, 2014 at 11:54 am

I'm no fan of City Hall and I don't use Zipcar but I understand the benefits in mitigating parking/traffic congestion and encouraging use of public transit. I am also perfectly fine with the City subsidizing these spaces, as I recognize that not every use of public resources will necessarily accrue to my private benefit.

Posted by Steve
a resident of Menlo Park
on Sep 2, 2014 at 1:53 pm

I was on temporary duty in Washington DC four years ago and had a bike but no car to supplement their great subway system. When I wanted to visit my brother in Virginia I rented a ZIP car for the day, a cute mini Cooper that was great fun to drive. The first tank of gas was included and I didn't have to fill it up before returning it. In DC they have ZIP cars scattered in small lots around the city so I only had to walk a few blocks from my apartment in Morgan Circle to pick it up. I love the concept and rented one from the Stanford lot near the hospital when my wife and daughter needed our two family cars for the day. I still pay the annual membership though I haven't used a ZIP car in a year or two. Never know when I might need one.

Posted by Purple Sage
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Sep 3, 2014 at 5:31 pm

It has been often reported by different media that Zipcar has been running in the red for the last three years. Isn't there a limit, set by the IRS, on how many years in a row a business can lose money? Does the IRS shut the business down forcibly, or simply refuse them anymore deductions?

Posted by Zip Facts
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 3, 2014 at 11:00 pm

Avis bought Zipcar for $500 million in cash in Jan, 2013. At the time, the company was unprofitable, but expected to post a profit for the year 2012 (results were never reported due to the buyout). It is of course not unusual for start-up companies to run losses for many years as they invest in R&D and rapid growth.

Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Sep 4, 2014 at 2:27 am

@Purple Sage, regarding limits to running in the red, reminds me of a Charles Foster Kane quote:

"You're right, I did lose a million dollars last year. I expect to lose a million dollars this year. I expect to lose a million dollars next year. You know, Mr. Thatcher, at the rate of a million dollars a year, I'll have to close this place in... 60 years."

Posted by Mark Weiss
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 6, 2014 at 12:17 pm

I find this problematic on several grounds, as others have stated above, and call it "corporate creep".

I would rather not have spent, for example $1.7 million to undermine our current General Plan / Comp Plan and maybe, after a study or discussion and not secret meetings, we could have bought or own 10 cars to share. What about the idle black and white? Maybe they can shuffle us to soccer practice and the market. With little brown not pink mustaches.

Nancy and Jim: zip it with your corporate trysts!

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