District Hopes to Save by Wider Sharing of Vehicles in City Employee Fleet

By Nikita Stewart
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 28, 2009

District government employees will share more vehicles under a new fleet management system that is the first of its kind in the country and run by Zipcar, a company partly owned by the city's transportation director.

The system greatly reduces the number of vehicles the city uses, replacing a fleet of 360 vehicles with 58. That equals a $6.6 million savings over five years, Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) said at a news conference yesterday in the parking lot of the District Department of Transportation.

The District is serving as the testing ground for what Zipcar is calling FastFleet, its service for governments. Zipcar Chief Executive Scott Griffith said he could not disclose which cities might use the car pooling system next, but "12 to 15 are in the pipeline."

Zipcar allows the city to use its technology, including equipping the cars with Global Positioning System devices. Such technology allows the city to better monitor who is driving its cars and where they are going. The city pays Zipcar a one-time fee of $1,200 a car to install the technology and $115 a month per vehicle to maintain it.

Gabe Klein, city transportation director, did not attend the event. Klein is the former regional vice president of Zipcar (also known as Mobility), which is based in Cambridge, Mass., and promotes itself as the largest car-sharing company in the world, with 275,000 members.

Mafara Hobson, the mayor's spokeswoman, wrote in an e-mail that Klein still holds a financial interest in the company but that "the ethics office said the amount wasn't a significant amount and therefore not a conflict of interest." Hobson did not disclose the value of Klein's stake in Zipcar.

The mayor's office said in a later statement that Klein agreed with the city's ethics counselor to "fully recuse himself from matters related to Zipcar, for at least a year from the effective date of his confirmation as DDOT Director, including refraining from participating in any initial deliberations or discussions, negotiations, meetings, and/or any final agency actions." The mayor's office noted that potential conflicts of interest were "wholly aired" at Klein's confirmation hearing before the D.C. Council this month.

Steven L. Schooner, co-director of the government procurement law program at George Washington University, said: "It's unusual to hear 'not a significant amount' being a standard for a conflict of interest. In a transparent government, it would be better to disclose the amount and let the public decide."

The mayor and Griffith said in an interview yesterday that the DC Fleet Share program, as it is called, was in development before Fenty nominated Klein to be transportation director in January. At that time, Klein had left Zipcar and was running On the Fly, his street vending and catering business. On the Fly was paid nearly $14,000 in December to provide food for a Fenty fundraiser, according to campaign finance records.

Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), who heads the committee that oversees DDOT, said Klein assured him that he would recuse himself from any dealings with Zipcar and On the Fly. Graham recalled that Klein told him during his confirmation process that he still owns about 5 percent or less of Zipcar.

Zipcar's D.C. office reported $840,000 in annual sales this year. The Cambridge headquarters reported $2.8 million in annual sales, according to business filings. A pilot program of Fleet Share was launched in October with 29 vehicles and four sites. That program saved about $300,000, city officials said. "The one driver-per-car model is broken," Griffith said yesterday. "This is really pioneering stuff."

Unlike its services for private consumers, Zipcar does not own the vehicles; the city does. Since its fleet was reduced, the city has sold more than 100 cars through Thirteen cars went into the new program; 30 vehicles had leases that were expiring, said Jack Pfeiffer, a spokesman in the mayor's office.

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