Emily Badger is a former staff writer at CityLab. Her work has previously appeared in Pacific Standard, GOOD, The Christian Science Monitor, and The New York Times. She lives in the Washington, D.C. area.
The GSA hopes it will save money. In the process, it could also help spread the idea much further.
The U.S. General Services Administration manages some 200,000 vehicles, cars used by federal government offices in cities around the country to attend meetings or visit communities. That's a massive transportation footprint (and a sizable budget item for the federal government). It may also represent a big opportunity to extend the reach of car-sharing.
This week, the GSA announced that it's looking for input from car-sharing vendors and industry experts on how it might broadly apply the concept to the government fleet. The GSA is primarily looking to save money by relying on car-sharing services instead of buying or leasing new vehicles.
"The second piece is that we think car-sharing will also help agencies realize that they don’t need as many cars as they already have and can then possibly reduce their current fleets," says Mafara Hobson, a spokeswoman for the GSA.
It's also conceivable that government car-sharing may help government employees realize the same thing about their personal vehicles. It's hard to imagine a larger single employer – the federal government employs more than 2 million civilians – with this much power to expose new users to the idea. If agencies incorporate car-sharing into the work culture for even a fraction of those employees, that would be a significant milestone in further normalizing it.
For now, the GSA says it's open to all kinds of models: car-sharing fleets reserved for government employees, or fleets shared with the broader public. The administration may also consider deploying car-share systems to manage the disparate fleets already held by multiple agencies in a single city. Given that several car-share services are regional, the government could also wind up working with many vendors all over the country.
Currently, Hertz, Enterprise, and Zipcar have small contracts with individual federal offices. But as GSA scales up the idea, with pilot projects planned in several cities, it's also hoping to expand that list.
For now, the agency is soliciting responses to a "market research questionnaire" about how all of this might work. Some of the questions (PDF) will probably sound downright quaint to anyone who's been following this space longer than Uncle Sam has. To wit:
Are there application fees? If so, how do they work? The Government would not be interested in paying an application fee for each potential driver - how can application fees be waived? If they cannot be waived, how would you recommend they be established and centrally managed?
Top image: Robert Galbraith/Reuters