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Behind the Wheel

Starting this semester, Trinity College offers a new car-sharing service

Adam Bulger

September 18, 2008

Trinity College hopes to get its students off the road. That's why the school is offering its students the use of borrowable cars.

Like many liberal arts schools, officials at the Hartford college have become increasingly concerned about its environmental impact.

Trinity spills over with cars, though when class is in session, cars are jammed into tight spaces and the grass along the campus's the main drag. School officials hope the congestion will clear with the new introduction of the Zipcar service.

Cambridge, Mass.-based company Zipcar has offered car-sharing service for hourly and daily fees since 2000. In 2004, Zipcar started a pilot program at Wellesley College, where they dropped their minimum age requirement to 18 to attract college students. This year, Trinity became one of 50 schools partnered with Zipcar, and joined Yale and Post University, becoming the third college in Connecticut to offer the service.

Trinity President Jim Jones is a signatory to the American College & University Presidents Climate Commitment, a sustainability agreement that commits the school to having all their new construction be built to U.S. Green Building Council's Leed Certification, among other stipulations.

"We judged the program primarily for its forward-thinking concept of car-sharing," said David Andres, Trinity's director of special projects. "It allows students to have another means of transportation in an environmentally friendly way."

This month, the two Toyota Matrixes are available for rent by student, faculty and community members. The cars will be parked at a designated spot on campus. After paying an annual fee of $35 for students, faculty and staff ($50 for the general community), which incorporates insurance fees, members receive cards that can be swiped over the windshield to unlock the car's doors. Zipcar pays for gas and maintenance, and its representatives say it helps lessen auto use. The cars cost $8 per hour.

"Each Zipcar we put on the road, we know, takes 15 to 20 cars off the road," Zipcar spokesperson Kristina Kennedy said. "Sixty percent of our members tell us that they either sell a car when they join Zipcar or halt a decision to buy one."

Trinity junior and student government senator Krystal Ramirez was instrumental in bringing the Zipcar to the Hartford campus. Like Andres, she said the environmental impact was its largest appeal, but cited other benefits.

"It's a good thing, even if you don't care about the environment," Ramirez said. "The whole convenience factor is great."

Easy car access is as much of a selling point for Zipcar as any environmental benefits. Zipcar may get cars off the road, but so would, say, a bicycle-sharing program.

"Obviously, New England winters, which is the majority of the time students are on campus, are not great weather for biking," Andres said.

Maybe Hartford winters aren't ideal for bikes. But Hampshire College, two hours north in Amherst, Mass., has a long-standing free "yellow bike" bicycle-sharing program, as does Middlebury College in Vermont. Ramirez and Andres said there is a newly formed Trinity college student group interested in bringing a bike-sharing program to Trinity.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Advocate.
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