Photo by M.V. Jantzen on Flickr.

DC can kill two political birds with one stone: Save money, and respond to public frustration about official vehicles, by aggressively replacing most government vehicles with fleet sharing.

At the Council hearing on SUVgate on March 7, DPW Director Bill Howland said that if he had a “magic wand,” he would take away almost all dedicated agency vehicles and replace them with fleet share.

How does DPW’s fleet share work? Basically, it’s Zipcar for DC employees. Actually, that’s exactly what it is, since it’s run by Zipcar. DC pays $115-125 per vehicle, per month, and Zipcar manages each vehicle’s use. Government employees have a special reservation system, and special cards to unlock the vehicles.

In 2008 and 2009, DC replaced 360 individual vehicles with just 58 shared vehicles. DC saved about $1 million a year by doing this.

Let’s give Howland his magic wand. Ask DPW to review its inventory of official vehicles and identify each one that has to remain dedicated to one person or agency. DPW should release a report to the Council and the public about each one, with an explanation of why it needs to be a dedicated vehicle.

Then, for all the others, switch them out for fleet share. Even if just 2 dedicated vehicles turn into 1 fleet share vehicle, it saves money. Plus, since Zipcar has a certain amount of fixed cost to run its systems, it ought to be able to give DC a bit better of a rate per car for the next few hundred fleet share vehicles.

Some DC government agencies, where one facility is far from others, might not lend themselves to fleet share. But DC has been consolidating many agencies into a number of buildings around the District, most of which are also right by Metro stations.

By reducing the numbers of vehicles the District owns, it would also cut down on parking needs. At buildings where part of the garage is commercial, like at the Reeves Center, each space not being used by DC means another space that can be rented out to others daily or monthly, saving even more money.

Plus, why not let the general public rent out fleet share vehicles on weekends? DC has a bunch of fleet share vehicles in the garage at the Reeves Center, for instance, of which very few are probably used on weekends. Meanwhile, there’s plenty of weekend demand at 14th and U, perhaps more than on weekdays.

The Reeves Center garage is already open to the public as well. Let most but not all DC fleet share vehicles turn into regular Zipcars just for the weekend. DC could run this as a pilot at the Reeves Center, the most obvious spot, to figure out how well this works and whether it’s worth expanding to other facilities.

This year is the ideal time to do this. There’s tremendous voter outrage over the existing official vehicles. Howland, Mayor Gray, and the DC Council would find plenty of public support for any effort to reduce the size of the District’s fleet and save money.

David Alpert is Founder and President of Greater Greater Washington and Executive Director of DC Sustainable Transportation (DCST). He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. Unless otherwise noted, opinions in his GGWash posts are his and not the official views of GGWash or DCST.