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ZipCar's EV vision demands more from TfL

Date: 01 August 2018   |   Author: Guy Bird

In a bid to reduce congestion and pollution, ZipCar has started its EV push in London with the aim of 15% of the capital's licence holders car sharing by 2025. But it wants TfL and the councils to do more. Guy Bird reports

"As Transport for London (TfL) sees it, the car equals bad, but that's so short-sighted," ZipCar's impassioned UK general manager Jonathan Hampson told BusinessCar on the sidelines of its mid-July event in the capital announcing the addition of 325 EVs to its fleet by the end of 2018. 

"I want the mayor and TfL to see the potential in car sharing and stop being worried about promoting the car, because most Londoners need a car from time to time. Then having grasped that point, ask, 'how is electrification going to come about?' It's going to come about by TfL getting its act together with the boroughs, and creating a vision with some ambition."

This was bold talk given that he was speaking on a panel that also included TfL's Michael Hurwitz as well as Mike Orford from VW - the manufacturer of ZipCar's new e-Golfs - plus Transport and Environment's Greg Archer. To be fair to TfL's Hurwitz, he too recognised the time for talk was over and the time for action needed to begin. "The infrastructure versus demand debate is old," he said. "We need to change the parameters of the debate and give time to the problem, as it's not core to any of our businesses."

Addressing a room full of representatives from local London councils and other interested parties, Hampson went on to urge them to do more too: "It is mainly down to the 33 boroughs because they own 95% of the road space, but they can get bogged down in local politics, and don't want to open a charging point because it's either going to ruin the streetscape or take a private parking space away. Everything gets stuck. But it's such a crisis for our city that we have to do something about it. Not putting in a car sharing parking space because so-and-so might lose their private parking space is not a good enough reason. We've got to get beyond that."

On the upside, Hampson was full of praise for partner VW, despite its heavily damaged reputation over dieselgate. "We had no hesitation in working with VW," he told a packed, but far from partisan crowd. "These e-Golfs provide ready-made demand for a charging infrastructure increase."  

Good for about a 125-mile real-world range, the 325 e-Golfs are to be deployed in ZipCar's more localised, shorter-distance rental scheme called Flex and will make up more than a third of that 800-strong vehicle network to become the UK's biggest shared EV fleet. While more 50kW, 40-minutes-to-full, rapid chargers are being installed, VW is also helping ZipCar in significant ways to make these short-term, car-sharing EVs feasible.

"VW is subsidising the cost of the cars and providing financial support to allow us to operate the cars in a viable way, such as shuttling the cars to rapid-charging stations, it's a stop-gap solution," continued Hampson. "London is installing more rapid-chargers because it has to. The mayor has said that every new taxi has to be electrified, so they have to put out enough infrastructure to make that possible. No one uses that rapid-charger infrastructure at night, so we will shuttle them there, and get them back out to where they are needed for the morning. We're not using any charging station hubs."

ZipCar's VW e-Golf costs 31p per mile to hire (capped at £14 an hour) versus 29ppm for the petrol VW Polo, but Hampson is quick to point out that the extra price is not some kind of EV premium. "The price differential between the two is to reflect that the Golf is bigger than the Polo, not because it's electric," he confirmed. 

If all goes to plan, ZipCar wants 800,000 Londoners - 15% of the capital's driving licence holders - to share 9,000 zero-emission use cars by 2025. If that plan does come to pass, there could be 120,000 fewer private-owned cars on London's streets, equating to 821 million fewer miles driven and 160,000 tons less CO2 emitted every year. 

ZipCar already has 13,500 business users - which tend to be small to medium enterprises - with access to 2,500-plus vehicles within the M25. While it has a small presence in Bristol, Cambridge and Oxford too, it does lack a national presence. Hampson conceded as much, but believes that if ZipCar can crack the capital it can crack anywhere. As he concluded, "Car sharing is a difficult business to make money from, that's totally true, but our 1,700-strong Round Trip vehicle business is already profitable, and we're very comfortable with the business case for our Flex service. We're not even touching the sides of what's possible in London. I'd like to be elsewhere, but for the time being our focus is here."