Who Uses Zipcar? Baby Boomers, That's Who

May 26, 2015

Some of you may have spent your long, Memorial Day weekend with friends and family. Others may have used the extra off-time to squeeze in a few overdue errands. And in either case, if you live in a large city, there's a chance you called on the services of Zipcar. 

We tend to think of car-sharing as the province of the young or youngish -- Millennials mostly, who've eschewed vehicle ownership. But Zipcar recently began noticing an uptick in memberships and reservations from older drivers, so it commissioned a study from KRC Research to determine whether Boomers are really down with ditching cars.

The study focused on "Urban Boomers" -- folks between the ages of 50 and 69 years old who live in urban areas (and for the purposes of this study, are in reasonably good health). KRC polled some 1,004 Urban Boomers from coast to coast, some of whom were already members of Zipcar, others of whom were users of the AARP website AARPDiscounts.com. Among the more interesting findings:

1. The number of Urban Boomers is growing. That doesn't necessarily mean that older Americans are retiring to cities instead of traditional, smaller communities. It might also mean that many people who've made their livings in cities aren't leaving them as fast as their parents and grandparents did. The only thing that certain is that the number of Boomers in cities is increasing, and at least one study (PDF) suggests that it will continue to do so, as Boomers search for amenities as they age.

2. Though Urban Boomers love the amenities that cities offer, they tend to simplify their personal lives. As a result, they live in smaller homes and divest themselves of quite a few possessions -- with tech devices like laptops and smartphones being notable exceptions. (In fact, the KRC survey shows that Urban Boomers would be more upset if they lost their laptop than if they lost their car.) 

3. Urban Boomers drive less often than they once did. You might think that this stems from Urban Boomers cutting back on expenses and selling their vehicles. (After all, car ownership may be cheaper nowadays, but it still ain't cheap.) However, 78 percent of those surveyed said that they still owned cars, even though a third of respondents admitted that they didn't use them every day. That suggests that the trend of driving less may be a product of living in an urban environment, where walking to destinations is often feasible and mass transit is common. 

4. Urban Boomers like reducing their reliance on vehicles. A whopping 87 percent of those surveyed said that they've remained in or moved to an urban area to cut their commute time. An additional 65 percent say that they like the fact that living in a city allows them to get around without a car.

So, what's the point? To us, the data suggests that, while many Urban Boomers seem reluctant to give up their vehicles, their reasons may be more emotional than practical. Apart from the fact that they grew up driving and owning cars, Urban Boomers' sentiments are very similar to those of their kids, the Millennials, who have few attachments to vehicles and have shunned them for different reasons.

Will Zipcar be able to use this data to boost membership and revenue? That's for the company (and its marketing team) to figure out. To us, though, it suggests at the very least that car ownership is due for some radical changes in the coming decades.

If you have time, you can find a summary of the KRC study here

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