Zipcar is a way for card-carrying carless urbanites to find a ready vehicle when they need it, without the onerous overhead of ownership. But Zipcar is also a growing model for cities looking to reduce their automobile fleet expenses.

Houston is the latest city to turn to Zipcar for help in slimming its fleet bill, signing up to use what the car-share company calls FastFleet. “Fifty existing city-owned fleet vehicles -- including 25 Nissan Leaf EVs -- will be outfitted with Zipcar’s FastFleet proprietary fleet-sharing technology for use by city employees across all departments,” Zipcar said in a statement.

It makes sense when you think about it: Zipcar’s commercial business is based on having its cars in use, with a single car serving perhaps several people on distinct trips over the course of a single day. To make this happen, the company employs sophisticated technology. Applying this same technology to a city car fleet, where one driver per car has often been the rule, is a dramatic change.

With the system, Zipcar says, fleet managers get deep data on how, when and where their cars (not Zipcars; these are city cars) are being used. Employees get a way to easily reserve, use and return cars.

This program has apparently worked well in other big cities. The nation’s capital was the first to give it a go, back in 2009, and in an early test of the program, D.C. claimed it had saved $400,000 in a matter of months. By more efficiently sharing vehicles, the district reported being able to sell off dozens of vehicles. Chicago and Boston are also FastFleet users, Zipcar said.

Houston boasts of being pretty green when it comes to its fleet already; in addition to all those Leafs, it claims to have the third-largest municipal hybrid fleet in the country, after replacing around half of its nonspecialty, light-duty fleet with hybrids.

Houston’s investment in what it’s calling “Houston Fleet Share” is funded by $134,750, the Houston Chronicle reported, from the State Energy Conservation Office American Recovery and Reinvestment Act Transportation Program. That’s money from the Obama stimulus. The Texas governor didn’t want it, but the state is doling it out, still, and they’re using it in Houston to save money in the long run.


Editor's note: This article is reposted in its original form from EarthTechling. Author credit goes to Pete Danko.