Minority neighborhoods ignored by Zipcar, I-GO
March 04, 2009 | 10:00 AM
Collion Leon, 33, takes a cab to get groceries. The Englewood resident does not own a car, and he prefers not to lug his purchases around on public transportation.
“It costs 5 to 7 dollars, depending on where you want to get dropped off,” he says.
If Leon lived elsewhere — on the North side, or even in Hyde Park — he could make use of the car-sharing programs like I-GO Car Sharing and Zipcar, which tout affordable and environmentally friendly options for people without cars, allowing them to rent them for an hour or two.
However, Leon’s neighborhood, Englewood, which is 98 percent black and on the South Side, has no I-GO or Zipcar vehicles available for consumers.
Other South Side neighborhoods face similar problems.
Between I-GO and Zipcar, there are 531 vehicles in 303 locations within Chicago city limits. Seven I-GO cars — three percent of the I-GO fleet — are located in black neighborhoods, and only six percent are located south of Cermak, an analysis by the Daily News shows.
Zipcar has one car located in a black neighborhood, though African Americans make up 36 percent of the city’s population, according to the 2000 Census.
Representatives from both I-GO Car Sharing and Zipcar say that their companies choose car locations based on a community’s need.
“There’s a business model to car sharing, and the business model says, ‘Where are the people who don’t own cars?’ They’re the most likely to car share,” says Richard Kosmacher, business development manager at I-GO.
However, in neighborhoods like Englewood, where high percentages of households do not have cars, there remains a disparity between need and service.
In Englewood and surrounding neighborhoods, 37 percent of households do not not have vehicles available to them, according to data from the 2007 American Community Survey. The area’s percentage of households without cars is second highest in the city.
In an area spanning Humboldt Park, North Lawndale, East Garfield Park and West Garfield Park, 48 percent of households are without cars. None of those neighborhoods have car sharing services available.
Both of Chicago’s car sharing companies concentrate their business in white and mixed race neighborhoods. I-GO has 145 car locations in Chicago, 89 percent of which are in white and mixed neighborhoods. Zipcar has 148 locations in the city, with 97 percent of them in white and mixed neighborhoods. These neighborhoods are mostly on the North and Northwest sides, with the exception of a few areas on the South side near Illinois Institute of Technology, Hyde Park and the University of Chicago.
Leon’s Census area has only three car sharing locations. That’s one car for every 8,216 households without a car. In the Census area that includes the Loop, Near North Side, Near West Side and Near South Side, that ratio is much higher. In those areas, an I-GO or Zipcar vehicle is available for every 138 residents.
“Are they deciding on the basis of market demand or are they deciding on the basis of race? A lot of times people will cover up their real motivation with things that seem to be business reasons but actually aren’t,” says Naomi Davis, founder and president of BIG: Blacks in Green, an environmental organization that advocates bringing green practices and lifestyles into the black community.
“The black community is routinely the last to receive any sort of savings innovation and new, quality ideas. There’s nothing new about that. I would really be surprised if it were any other way.”
Officials at I-Go and Zipcar had different explanations.
“The most dense concentration of our cars is at the densest part of our city, which is along the lakefront,” says Kosmacher of I-GO. “But if you look at where we are, we’re in Albany Park and moving into Old Irving. We’re starting to move out and move west and also to move south.”
Zipcar representatives did not comment specifically on the concentrations of their locations, except to say that the company has expanded “to areas that we can.”
“They do very in-depth figuring out of where to expand to meet the demand,” says Lesley Neadel, a public relations representative for Zipcar. “If we’re not there, I’m sure the demand just wasn’t there to support expanding into that neighborhood.”
Unlike Zipcar, I-GO Car Sharing is a nonprofit organization. I-GO representatives said the organization is currently being considered for funding that would help expand its reach to underserved communities on the south and west sides.
Davis said the car sharing companies’ absence is just as well. She said black neighborhoods should find a way to start their own green businesses and keep the dollars circulating within the community.
“If they’re not interested in our money and our community for whatever reason, we should start our own. That is a green business that anybody can bring in,” she said. “Lots of options are not readily available in the black community. We’re accustomed to that, and that’s why I advocate self-help, creating your own green options.”
Marian Wang is a Chicago-based reporter. She covers environmental issues for the Daily News.
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