Why Zipcar replaced Community Car on UW-Madison campus

For the next five years, car-sharing service Community Car will no longer serve UW-Madison’s campus.

In January, the organization lost its bid to serve as the University of Wisconsin Madison’s Transportation Services car-sharing provider to an out-of-state competitor, Zipcar.

While Community Car will no longer be a part of UW-Madison’s Transportation Services, the locally grown car-sharing company will still provide alternative transportation options throughout the rest of Madiso, Vice President, John Ribolzi said. 

Car-sharing first came to the university in 2005 when Madison-based Community Car began their contract to help alleviate the parking problem on campus and provide alternative means of transportation. 

The idea for Community Car came out of the Madison Environmental Group, a local consulting and research firm committed to creating sustainable systems for businesses. The idea was formulated in 2003 to “get people to drive less” and realize that alternative methods of transportation are not as inconvenient as they might appear, Ribolzi said.

According to UW-Madison’s Transportation Services Commuter Solutions Manager Dar Ward, the university is committed to providing solutions that allow more alternative methods of transportation.

“We work to make options available to help people get to campus without driving alone,” Ward said.

Like all contracted services with the University, the car-sharing agreement is subject to rebidding every five years through the state’s Request for Proposal (RFP) process. The process requires companies to submit a competitive proposal to work with the University. 

Each RFP is comprised of a set of questions to help the University evaluate the businesses on a number of factors including costs. Answers to questions in the proposals are then scored and total points tallied for each bidder.

Charlie Simonson, the Purchasing Manager at the University, said like all RFPs, applicants were rated anonymously to avoid any sort of favoritism or bias.  First the various University priorities were scored. These priorities ranged from number and kinds of vehicles provided, to marketing strategies, and reservation systems. 

After the initial ranking, the top bidders or finalists, like Community Car and Zipcar, were invited to do a presentation for the decision panel.  In the presentation, finalists were encouraged to elaborate on the information in their RFPs, as well as answer questions the panelists posed.

One factor the RFP process did not consider was where the company originated. According to Ward, the panel was instructed not to consider local versus out-of-state information on the companies when making their decision.

“No weight is given to that aspect to avoid the appearance of preferences or reciprocity agreements,” Simonson explained.

By not giving preferential treatment to in-state companies, Wisconsin hopes to encourage other states to follow suit and also not give preference to their in-state companies.

The term cost as used in the car-sharing RFP is different than usual.  Bringing car-sharing to campus meant no direct costs for, or payments to, the University.  Instead, costs in this situation were defined as what University students, staff, and faculty would pay to become a member and take advantage of these services, Simonson said.

Costs of services like parking spots on campus, signage to designate those spaces, and marketing are all borne by the company and not the University.

In looking at the panel’s evaluations of each car-sharing company’s qualifications, Zipcar ranked highest in 12 of the 16 categories, before costs were factored in.  It also ranked highest in cost evaluations among finalists for the contract. 

Zipcar officially launched their partnership with the University in January and thus far, according to Mike Serafino, General Manager of University and FastFleet Programs at Zipcar, the response has exceeded Zipcar’s expectations.

Serafino saw Madison as a strong market to expand into given the unique geographical challenges of an isthmus, as well as the existing system of public transportation in the city. 

Though Zipcar does not currently have an office in Madison (the nearest headquarters is in Chicago), the company’s business model was designed to “support any Zipster, anywhere” without having an office in every city.  Zipcar is also open to bringing more cars or management bodies to any city they operate in if the membership desires, Serafino said.

While Ribolzi said he is disappointed to have lost the bid with the University to Zipcar, but is excited about the opportunities Community Car will have to grow around Madison in other ways.

“Usage has actually increased since we moved off campus,” he said. 

Ribolzi attributes the increase in business to the company’s decision to both cut cars from locations on the far edges of the community and move a few of their campus cars to convenient locations near where students live, like the McDonald’s parking lot on Regent Street.

Ribolzi also said he sees the downsizing as an opportunity to improve the company’s efficiency, allowing them to grow more effectively in the future.

“We plan on sticking around and providing car sharing in Madison,” Ribolzi said, adding that Community Car will place a bid to get back on the UW-Madison campus when the current contract expires after 2016.


This is depressing. I have

This is depressing. I have been using both services and community car is incomparably better - prices are more convenient, cars are better mantained, and customer service is nicer (once the car was broken and they personally came and give me a ride to the nearest working vehicle!). It is sad to see the university turning down a locally-owned, well-managed company.


“By not giving preferential treatment to in-state companies, Wisconsin hopes to encourage other states to follow suit and also not give preference to their in-state companies.”

In other words, we hope to increase business for our local companies by avoiding doing business with them.