Greater Greater Washington

Breakfast links: From Z to A


Photo by afagen on Flickr.
Avis buys Zipcar: Car rental company Avis has reached a deal to purchase Zipcar for $500 million. Besides getting better deals on cars, Avis can use its fleet to increase capacity on weekends, when demand is highest. (NYT, Forbes)

Or will Avis kill Zipcar?: Might an Avis-owned Zipcar be less of an advocate for the walkable urban lifestyle? Or perhaps more? Will it gradually change it into the old car rental model to cut costs as it loses innovative executives? (Slate, Post)

Metro announces inauguration service: Metro will open early, close late, run rush hour service, and charge rush fares for most of Inauguration Day. The Smithsonian, Archives, and Mt. Vernon Square stops will also be closed. (Post)

Pricey passes not a hit, not surprisingly: Many fewer Metro riders are buying passes after WMATA raised the prices. Michael Perkins is not surprised, since he said they wouldn't succeed as implemented. (Examiner)

Generous camera illegal?: A police officer is insisting 14,000 tickets are invalid from a speed camera because it was set at a higher speed limit than the posted one. (Post)

Amtrak wants lighter trains: Amtrak is asking the Federal Railroad Administration to change rules that force US trains to be much heavier than those in Europe. FRA thinks that enhances safety, but many disagree. (Bloomberg, Forbes)

Transportation tops MD agenda: Maryland's General Assembly will attempt to tackle several transportation issues in its upcoming session, perhaps including a higher gas tax to help fund the Purple Line and other projects. (Gazette)

What DC Council travel costs taxpayers: Vincent Orange spent $1,750 of public funds for a trip to LA; Jim Graham $1,500. Jack Evans and Yvette Alexander spent over $400 a night for rooms in Las Vegas, while Michael Brown was far more thrifty. There seems to be little pattern to what travel expenses are allowed. (City Paper)

New oversight: Budget autonomy supporter Darrell Issa is moving oversight of DC from a subcommittee to the full House Oversight and Government Reform committee, which he chairs. Eleanor Holmes Norton likes the change. (City Paper)

And...: Michael Brown is a Democrat again and running for council again. (WAMU) ... The Washington Times will likely have less local coverage. (DCist) ... The Chesapeake Bay is a little healthier. (AP) ... Ever wonder what happened to SmartBike? (WashCycle)

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Steven Yates grew up in Indiana before moving to DC in 2002 to attend college at American University. He currently lives in Southwest DC.  

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Avis & Zipcar

I feel like this merger has the potential to either be great or terrible for zipcar users, hence the divided opinions among people weighing in. But the first thing I thought of when I heard of the deal was the potential for Avis to become THE car rental company for the car-free set. Since Zipcar is already insuring all these people, does that give Avis the ability to extend that insurance if you rent a car for multiple days while on a trip? Seems like that could be a big cost-saver and incentive for Zipcar members to choose Avis when they travel.

The other scenario I thought about was Avis trying to steer you towards a fixed location when you want to rent for a longer period - the system could tell you "well if you went and got a car at National Airport instead it would save you $X instead."

by MLD on Jan 3, 2013 8:58 am • linkreport

I'm so glad to see that transportation tops the agenda for Maryland politicians. Our furure economic viability will be tied to how well we will accomodate future growth which has as much to do with transportation as it has to do with land use.

Much like an article in Atlantic Cities about New York's future describes "in a city where the new Second Avenue subway line is expected to cost $17 billion – would be high but when placed against the New York area’s contribution of nearly 10 percent of the nation’s GDP, would be worth it."

Maryland politicians will be setting ourselves up for future success as cities like NYC know all to well, something I'd be happy to pay for.

by Thayer-D on Jan 3, 2013 9:03 am • linkreport

@MLD; good point, but I am pretty sure Hertz-on-Demand doesn't pull over the insurance. Given how much of a profit center that is, I don't see Avis wanting to give it up either.

by charlie on Jan 3, 2013 9:06 am • linkreport

police officer is insisting 14,000 tickets are invalid from a speed camera because it was set at a higher speed limit than the posted one.

I have a deep appreciation for stupid arguments, and I can say without hesitation this is the dumbest I've heard in a long while. I mean to say, this is "King of The Washington Post Comments Section" stupid.

We need to find the hearing officer who dismissed this ticket and make sure they never work for any DC agency ever again.

by oboe on Jan 3, 2013 9:16 am • linkreport

Vincent Orange spent $1,750 of public funds for a trip to LA

He walks, talks, and hemorrhages money like everyone in every ward of the city.

by oboe on Jan 3, 2013 9:23 am • linkreport

That article actually made me respect Michael Brown a bit more. Who would have thought, when you are on the cities dime, to find a cheaper alternative.

What the heck was Alexander doing staying at a spa, and then Evans at $499 a night. He should be ashamed of himself. In what city is $499 a night acceptable? If you were going to NYC for work, would you think it was okay to get a $499/night hotel room?

Orange absolutely drives me nuts. $500 for a three-day car rental, including $28/day in upgrade fees. What the heck are you thinking Vincent "Fully-Loaded" Orange? Oh, and we got to pick up his $99 in parking costs. TAKE A FREAKING CAB!

I certainly enjoyed the fact that Marion "I saved the city and built Georgetown, U St, and H St" incurred phone charges. I had no clue anyone actually used those hotel phones!

by Kyle-W on Jan 3, 2013 9:29 am • linkreport

"Ever wonder what happened to SmartBike?"

Since they bleached from red to white in a matter of months, I assumed they crumbled to dust a few months after Bikeshare started up.

I was actually a charter member of Smartbike. I used to get such a thrill when I actually saw somebody else using a bike. That thrill continued with Bikeshare. For a little while, that is. Pretty early on it was such a huge success that seeing them became so routine.

I still get a little happier, though, when one rolls by.

by TM on Jan 3, 2013 9:33 am • linkreport

The Avis merger is bad for Zipcar on two levels.

First, there's a culture issue. Of the big three rental car providers (Hertz, Avis and Enterprise), Avis is easily the least dynamic, least customer-centric of the bunch, both as a brand and a parent company. I'd have been much less concerned if Enterprise had bought Zipcar (its National brand is probably the most customer-focused of all the brands), but Avis? Avis, as the premium brand of the chain, has long been in a war between National and Hertz for top-tier customers, i.e., the frequent flyers who travel on a weekly basis and rent cars upwards of 300 days a year. Those customers tell them that to switch, they want the car choice flexibility offered by competitors and the better rewards programs as well. Avis takes in that feedback, and...does nothing with it, instead trying to circumvent the customer to get exclusivity with employer travel programs, which frequent travelers HATE, and often rebel against. Avis just doesn't get what it takes to actually attract customers who want to come to the brand on its own, and its doubtful Zipcar can teach it anything it doesn't already know.

The second problem is vehicle choice. Fleets are generally made up of either the kinds of cars customers don't want, or the kind of cars OEMs (i.e., automakers) want to sell in such high volumes, they have to do some fleet--think midsize sedans here. Some of the cars Zipcar has in its fleet, like the Honda Element, Hyundai Veloster, Kia Soul and the BMW 3-series, have the fastest turn rates in the nation. This means that retail customers are snapping those cars up as fast as the OEMs can build them. Those cars don't exist in rental fleets at all, and as such, will no longer exist in the Zipcar fleet either. Now, some popular Zipcars are also strong fleet sellers, like the Toyota Prius, so we'll continue to see those. But don't be surprised to see your favorite Civic soon morph into a Dodge Avenger or Chevrolet Malibu next time you go zipping.

by Circle Thomas on Jan 3, 2013 9:38 am • linkreport

Surprise! The $230 not-even-a-month pass isn't selling. Who could have predicted that, when there's a $199.50 monthly MTA TLC pass that also includes unlimited Metrobus rides (and RideOn, if you're into that sort of thing)?

Then again, I have to look like a tourist whenever I use it since it's a paper farecard. I'd gladly switch to a reasonable SmarTrip monthly pass, but not if (a) it costs more, and (b) it's not even a full month.

by Gray's in the Fields on Jan 3, 2013 9:39 am • linkreport

On Amtrak

The link you list as an argument against the lighter trains is in fact a video showing how the lighter train-sets perform better in crashes - so both link support Amtrak's request

by Nick D on Jan 3, 2013 9:43 am • linkreport


@circle Thomas; yep, the vehicle choice is a biggie. Given (as I said on Richard's blog) that car rental is an arbitrage operation between buying the cars then disposing of them, I am sure avis is saying they can really maximize the profit on zipcar if they switch to your standard crap fleet cars.

That being said, there is a huge opportunity for "rental car as your second/third" car model, and establishing a billing relationship with your best customers (as opposed to corporate customers) could be worth a lot as well.

by charlie on Jan 3, 2013 9:48 am • linkreport

Zipcar already has been in decline. Fewer Priuses. Rental rates that have crept up faster than inflation. More add-ons. I'm more likely to wait until the weekend and do a conventional day long car rental, pay less and have less constraint on my time.

by Rich on Jan 3, 2013 9:54 am • linkreport

When large companies buy small innovators they almost always try to squeeze the innovator into the old corporate model, and end up killing it. In many ways, Avis is not just buying Zipcar, but buying the thousands of subscribers who will now be captive users.

by SJE on Jan 3, 2013 9:54 am • linkreport

The Washington Times seems to have ceded its niche to the Examiner. Either way, they're ideological vanity publications and relevant only to the extent that Post is a failure as a regional newspaper and the many weeklies aren't able to fill all the gaps.

by Rich on Jan 3, 2013 9:57 am • linkreport

Not all rental fleet cars are bad. Many of the newer American small cars are great, and Ford's latest products are particularly nice.

by Ron on Jan 3, 2013 10:00 am • linkreport

Well, Amtrak's request comes about 20 years after it should have, but I suppose it's good that they're finally making some progress on that front.

It'd also be nice to see the "Buy America" restrictions lifted for small orders of DMUs and the like. Right now, it's difficult to run low-volume or rural train services in the US, because we can't actually purchase any trains that are appropriate to that kind of service...

I also like Amtrak's proposed long-term strategy of buying a small number of railcars each year to constantly refresh its fleet, and actually make it possible to build the things domestically. They'll hopefully spur some competition, and end up getting a better (and cheaper) product.

Unsurprisingly, it's difficult for a domestic railcar manufacturer to survive when Amtrak places one order of 500 cars every 30 years.

by andrew on Jan 3, 2013 10:01 am • linkreport

"We need to find the hearing officer who dismissed this ticket and make sure they never work for any DC agency ever again."

As opposed to the DDOT workers who didn't know how to place a camera?

That all being said, it reads more like the basis for a private attorney general suit than anything else.

by charlie on Jan 3, 2013 10:25 am • linkreport

Those cars don't exist in rental fleets at all, and as such, will no longer exist in the Zipcar fleet either. Now, some popular Zipcars are also strong fleet sellers, like the Toyota Prius, so we'll continue to see those. But don't be surprised to see your favorite Civic soon morph into a Dodge Avenger or Chevrolet Malibu next time you go zipping.

By this logic, your favorite Civic would morph into a Dodge Avenger or Chevrolet Malibu regardless of whether Zipcar were acquired by Avis.

by Scoot on Jan 3, 2013 10:25 am • linkreport

I find that Car2Go vehicles meet my "hip" vehicle requirements. I still have my Zip car membership for the rare occasion when I need a truck or large vehicle. But when I want a car for an entire day, I have to do the Avis thing. Sure would be easier if one company had all these services ... and also if Union Station car rental worked early/late hours on the weekends.

by tour guide on Jan 3, 2013 10:33 am • linkreport

I usually Metro to DCA if I want a car for a whole day. Usually *way* cheaper than Zipcar (but kind of a pain to do).

by andrew on Jan 3, 2013 10:35 am • linkreport

By this logic, your favorite Civic would morph into a Dodge Avenger or Chevrolet Malibu regardless of whether Zipcar were acquired by Avis.

Scoot, not necessarily. Hertz, for example, has a strong relationship with Mazda, so it's more likely that if Hertz was the partner, the Civic would have morphed into a Mazda 3s (which Zipcar also currently uses pretty regularly).

Similarly, Enterprise buys a lot of better-specced cars for its National division. In that case, I could see them biting the bullet a paying Hyundai near retail for some Elantra GTs, or going to VW for more Golfs (since VW has massively upped fleet sales)--again, like the Mazda, that would be an equal trade in my book.

Most of Avis' fleet comes from GM, Chrysler and Toyota, in that order. Of that bunch, your best hope is to see a Civic replaced with a Chevy Cruze--itself not a bad car, but it'll likely be a base spec LS model, not a better-equipped LT2 or LTZ. Most of the Civics in Zipcar's fleet are either Hybrid, SE or EX trim level, which are all high-spec models.

by Circle Thomas on Jan 3, 2013 10:51 am • linkreport

Regardless of the legitimacy of the faulty camera tickets it should still be disturbing that even with the cushion you have with speed cameras, 14000 people found it necessary to go above that AND a higher baseline.

Meanwhile people will come in and say that 45mph is too low for an interstate while ignoring the fact that this is in a tunnel with exits and merge lanes on all sides that abruptly ends on a city street. It seems emininently reasonable for the speed to be lower there.

by drumz on Jan 3, 2013 11:05 am • linkreport

@Grays: I haven't been able to figure out what's going on with the transit link card other than it's on autopilot and very few people are noticing what a great deal it is. WMATA staff just propose increasing the price of the TLC with inflation each year, and apparently it slips under the radar. It became a great deal recently as the max fare increased as well as eliminating the discount on the rail fast pass.

by Michael Perkins on Jan 3, 2013 11:14 am • linkreport

I agree about Avis not being very customer-centric..which is why I haven't rented from them in at least 6 or so years.

I haven't seen BMW's and Velostars at my n'hood's Zipcar pick-up/drop-off so I'm not sure there would be much of a difference between current Zipcar and Avis on the fleet choice. Personally, I have been long underimpressed w/Zipcar's choices.

But at the end of the day, choices are what matter. For my money, I would prefer to have a Chevy Malibu over a Velostar, Element, the Kia Soul or a Civic.

Now if Enterprise Holding's (Enterprise, National, Alamo) purchased Zipcar, I would be a bit more jolly about its choices.

by HogWash on Jan 3, 2013 11:19 am • linkreport

Mt. Vernon Square

Why do they close Mt. Vernon Square? I understand Smithsonian and Archives.

I understand why L'Enfant can't be closed but I sometimes wonder if the crowds would be better if they did not allow entries at L'Enfant, only transfers and exits.

by Jasper on Jan 3, 2013 11:44 am • linkreport

^^ I was wondering the same thing. Mt. Vernon Square isn't anywhere close to Pennsylvania Avenue or the National Mall. Seems strange to close that station.

by Aaron on Jan 3, 2013 12:23 pm • linkreport

@Michael Perkins: I feel like it must be related to some agreement made a while back, and there aren't enough people using it for WMATA to bother getting rid of it, or increase the price in line with increases elsewhere.

But somehow WMATA can't figure out how to offer a monthly pass.

by Gray's in the Fields on Jan 3, 2013 12:31 pm • linkreport

The only thing I could think of regarding the closing of Mt. Vernon was that one of the large inaugural balls tends to be at the Convention Center. But I'm not sure I can come up with a good reason other than some vague notion of security.

by Steven Yates on Jan 3, 2013 12:32 pm • linkreport

Mt. Vernon Square was also closed during the 2009 balls.

by tour guide on Jan 3, 2013 1:27 pm • linkreport

@Gray's in the Fields: I also haven't been able to figure out how the revenue is shared between WMATA and MTA. No one at WMATA I've asked seems to know anything about it.

by Michael Perkins on Jan 3, 2013 1:31 pm • linkreport

L'Enfant Plaza was closed a couple of hours prior to the 2009 swearing in. Green trains stopped at SE Waterfront and Archives but skipped L'Enfant Plaza. Unfortunately, SE Waterfront was ill equiped to handle the surge and the platforms were dangerously crowded as trains dumped more and more passengers. Two of the escalators were turned off and folks had to climb up. The third escalator was also turned off but was restricted by security for entrance use only. This was the most scared I've ever been in the Metro system. It was really dangerous.

by tour guide on Jan 3, 2013 1:33 pm • linkreport

Can't remember if I got off a L'Enfant in 2009 but I definitely know that once it was over, instead of waiting in the line which formed at the top of the outside platform (just to get to the escalators going down into the station) I decided to hike it on to Navy Yard and took the green line from there.

by HogWash on Jan 3, 2013 2:45 pm • linkreport

"As opposed to the DDOT workers who didn't know how to place a camera?"

Who are you talking about here?

by oboe on Jan 3, 2013 3:28 pm • linkreport

I'm really torn about the Zipcar buyout. Could be great, could be terrible. I'd love to see more Priuses again, and if Avis has agreements with Toyota that might be a good step to accomplish that. I also wouldn't mind having some of the smaller Fords in the fleet. I rented a Focus last summer on vacation and it was pretty nice and very fuel efficient (I drove 2 hours to/from my ultimate destination and did some light driving for the remainder of the week and only went through *just* over a tank). It would be awesome if they could offer benefits to Zipcar members who wanted a regular daily rental, particularly w/r/t the insurance for those of us who don't own cars. It would be great if they could task some of their excess daily rentals to increasing weekend capacity, but I don't know how useful that would be (I would prefer to get my car in my neighborhood, but it would be better to have to go to Union Station than not being able to get a car at all). They're keeping Zipcar's senior people on, we'll just have to see if they listen to them. It's all so speculative right now that I don't know exactly how to feel, yet. I guess the best thing is to just keep communicating what we like about Zipcar and any let them know promptly if they're making changes that hurt the Zipcar experience.

by Ms. D on Jan 3, 2013 6:35 pm • linkreport

Wow - WMATA has a 28 day Metro pass for $230.

NYC has one for 30 for $112.

by Capt. Hilts on Jan 6, 2013 8:11 am • linkreport

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