Red Zipcar parked at a meter in Cambridge, MA

What Is Carsharing?

Carsharing is a system that gives you access to a car that you can drive for short periods of time without the cost and responsibility of owning one.

There are two traditional carsharing companies currently operating in Cambridge: Zipcar and Enterprise Carshare. A third company, Relay Rides, is a peer-to-peer carsharing organization that allows people to put their own cars into a pool of cars to be used by neighbors.

How Does Carsharing Work?

  • You apply for membership; once you are approved, the carsharing organization sends you a card that unlocks the vehicle doors and ignition. There is no need to go to a central car rental office to pick up the keys.
  • You can reserve a car online or on a smartphone.
  • You can choose from a large variety of car types, including electric vehicles, hybrids, compact cars, pickup trucks, and luxury cars.
  • Reservations can be made by the hour or by the day.
  • Insurance and gas is usually included in the rental cost.

What Are the Benefits of Carsharing?

  • More mobility options for Cambridge residents, employees and visitors, complementing the city’s robust transit, bicycling and walking networks. For many people, carsharing is a more affordable alternative to owning a car.
  • Less competition for parking because more people can be served with fewer cars. National research shows that carsharing members often get rid of their cars or delay buying one.
  • Reduced car-dependence, traffic congestion and greenhouse gas emissions. National research shows that carsharing members tend to drive less overall, and take more transit, biking and walking trips.

What Is the History of Carsharing?

Carsharing began in the 1970s and ’80s in Europe. The first widely-used carsharing organization in the U.S. was Zipcar, founded in 2000 in Cambridge.

How Many Private Cars Does a Carsharing Vehicle Take Off the Road?

National research[1] shows that each carsharing vehicle takes 9 to 13 privately owned cars off the road (see below). That means that even if you aren’t a carsharing member, you will benefit because your neighbor will be able to live without a car, which helps reduce traffic and competition for parking in residential neighborhoods.

What Is the Difference Between Round-Trip and One-Way Carsharing?

In round-trip carsharing, you pick up and return the car to the same location.

In one-way carsharing, you pick up the car in one location and can drop it off in another location. Zipcar is conducting a one-way pilot program in the Boston area using private, off-street parking spaces.

Other one-way carsharing companies, such as Car2Go and DriveNow, use a combination of off-street, and on-street parking spaces. These companies do not currently operate in Cambridge.

What is the Current Zoning Proposal?

The proposed zoning changes would allow parking spaces to be used for carsharing vehicles in existing and new parking lots, with limits on the number that can be used for carsharing in a residential parking area. See Zoning Amendments page for more details on the zoning proposal.

Where Can I Read More about Carsharing?

  1. Carsharing’s impact on household vehicle holdings: results from a North American shared-use vehicle survey, 2010, UC Berkeley
  2. Car-Sharing: Where and How It Succeeds, 2005, Transit Cooperative Research Program Report 108
  3. Carsharing parking policy: a review of North American practices and San Francisco Bay area case study, 2010, UC Berkeley
  4. UC Berkeley Transportation Sustainability Research Center, Extensive carsharing research

Carshare Services That Operate in Cambridge

Traditional Carshare

Peer-to-Peer Carshare

For More Information

For more information, contact Stephanie Groll at, or 617/349-4673.