Car sharing launches in Whistler

Zipcar brings two vehicles to the Village, with possibility of expansion

Whistlerites have a new transportation option after Zipcar announced last week that it now has two of its vehicles in the Village. 

A Hyundai Santa Fe is located on Blackcomb Way and a Hyundai Elantra GT — which is equipped with bike racks in the summer and will have ski racks in the winter — is at the Aava Hotel. Both will have winter tires installed later this year. 

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The car sharing company had been contemplating expanding to Whistler, but it wasn’t until Whistler Blackcomb approached them that they officially decided to add the town to their roster of locations. In October, they plan to add another vehicle at Whistler Blackcomb staff housing. 

“The more people we saw go up to Whistler, the more we saw Whistler as a great option for us too,” said Catherine Williams, market manager for the region. 

“The demand is there. There’s a great bus system, but a lot of people who live in Whistler don’t have a car.” 

She envisions the service being useful to both locals and visitors. Some Whistlerites have already signed up. The company will monitor the demand for the service and consider expanding in the future. 

“The feedback from the residents who we were speaking with said, ‘Two cars? That’s not going to be enough!’ We’ll look closely at the utilization and demand. As the user base grows in Whistler, we’ll look at adding vehicles.” 

Zipcar requires its users to become members either on a monthly or annual basis. They can book vehicles a minute in advance or a year in advance, depending on availability. The cars can be borrowed anywhere from one hour to seven days and has to be returned to the location it was taken from. (While one of the vehicles has all-wheel drive, they are required to stay on road.) 

There was a car sharing service in Whistler back in the ‘90s, and while it ultimately failed, the concept is being received much differently now, Whistler Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden said. 

“It was an idea that was ahead of its time,” she said. “It’s so pervasive in Vancouver now and the millennials in particular use it regularly. I would expect it will be quite successful.”

Whistler has struggled with heavy traffic in the last year, particularly during peak weekend hours. In response, the municipality formed the Transportation Advisory Group (TAG) — which has talked about car sharing in the past — and recently they decided to make buses free on Saturdays through to Sept. 3 until 8 p.m. (that was recently expanded from 6 p.m.). 

“Our significant challenge is to get people out of their cars, but if this will allow people to reduce the number of cars by being able to use a car share program it’s a great idea,” Wilhelm-Morden said. 

To that end, Zipcar said their service has been found to reduce the number of cars in cities where they operate. “What we found through studies is that every Zipcar we place on the grid takes 13 personally-owned vehicles off the grid,” Williams said. “It will help with congestion in Whistler as people realize they can live without owning a car.”

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