Zipcar lot in Ann Arbor

Senior Transportation Overhauled: Zipcar, Hertz and Electric Charging

Many senior living communities today offer a dizzying array of on-site amenities, but leading providers realize that residents still want the basics. And that includes easy access to the surrounding community.

Responding to this desire, cutting-edge operators are stepping up with transportation-related innovations that make it more convenient, economical and eco-friendly for seniors to be on-the-go.

Here are three ways operators are redesigning senior living transportation through new, innovative options for residents.

Zipcars: Filling A Need

Zipcar started a car culture revolution 15 years ago, when it launched in Cambridge, Mass. The car sharing service has been a hit with so-called Millennials — the current generation of young adults — and stands to be just as popular among seniors. At least, that’s the belief at Roland Park Place, a not-for-profit Baltimore continuing care retirement community that began a Zipcar program earlier this month.

The way Zipcar operates is simple. The company’s vehicles occupy dedicated parking spaces throughout a city or other locale, such as a college campus. Members sign up to take a car out and pay by the hour or day. At the appointed time, a member enters the car by using a special access card. The driver returns to the same spot at the end of the trip. Gas and insurance are covered by the price of membership.

Two Zipcars now are available on the Roland Park Place campus, and residents receive a discount on their membership, the community’s Director of Marketing Becki Bees tells Senior Housing News.

“It’s just another great amenity we can offer our residents,” she says.

Many seniors choose a CCRC because they want to simplify their lives, giving up the hassle and expense of home ownership, she explains. By offering easy access to Zipcars, Roland Park Place also is making it possible for more residents to dispense with owning a car as well.

Some residents already were familiar with Zipcar but not many had used the service, according to Bees. Zipcar representatives came to the campus and gave a presentation, fielding questions from the crowd. Interest was high, and some residents and staff members have signed up to take the Zipcars out for a spin.

The CCRC does provide other transportation options to medical appointments as well as to recreational activities such as shopping or entertainment events — but there still is a need for Zipcar, Bees believes.

“There’s always the question of, what if I just want to go see a friend?” she says. “Zipcars fill in that gap, so that residents can visit friends in the community.”

The program does not demand too much oversight from Roland Park Place. For instance, Zipcar screens potential members to ensure they are safe drivers, so the CCRC does not have to make judgment calls about who can participate.

In fact, senior living providers that were not able to work out Zipcar programs in the past might want to try again. Roland Park Place itself had reached out to Zipcar several years ago, but could not come to an agreement at the time.

“They had some restrictions, some age requirements on the high end, insurance challenges,” Bees explains. “We decided to revisit. They’re a much bigger company now and it was a good fit for us and our neighborhood.”

One neighborhood benefit: Parking is at a premium in the urban area around the CCRC’s campus, so having the Zipcars helps ease some of that congestion.

The Zipcars also support marketing efforts by raising awareness of Roland Park Place in the community. The cars are available to people who do not reside at the CCRC, so Zipcar members from the neighborhood now are coming on campus to access the cars, Bees notes.

Even Baltimore City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke recognized that the Zipcars would be a boon to the whole area. Clarke literally said “zip-a-dee-doo-dah” when she heard about the program, according to Bridget Forney, Roland Park’s public relations manager.

The Zipcar offering is still in its early stages but so far has been an unqualified success. Forney says, “It’s had nothing but a positive impact.”

On-Demand Cars: Good as Gold

Despite the exciting rollout at Roland Park Place, Zipcars might not be a great fit for all senior living communities. After its own Zipcar initiative faltered, a provider in Virginia achieved success by instead working with car rental giant Hertz.

About a year ago, Westminster-Canterbury on Chesapeake Bay brought Zipcars onto its campus. However, not many residents used the cars, and cost became an issue, says Westley Paxton, director of plant operations and maintenance at the CCRC in Virginia Beach, Va.

In particular, there were insurance-related costs to having the Zipcars on the grounds, totaling around $1,000 a month, Paxton tells SHN. He notes that if residents had been taking the cars out on a regular basis, the cost easily could have been covered — but usage was low.

The solution was to replace the Zipcars with a more on-demand service through Hertz.

Westminster-Canterbury began a Gold corporate account with Hertz and signed up all its independent living residents — about 400 in all. Now, a resident can place a phone call and Hertz will bring a car over within two hours, then pick it up after the resident is done with the rental.

The system works well for a number of reasons, Paxton says. Insurance costs for the CCRC are more manageable because the cars are not kept on-site, and residents pay a nominal insurance fee out-of-pocket if their personal insurance does not provide the necessary coverage for rental cars.

In addition, residents and staff members get 20% off each rental, and Westminster-Canterbury accrues points similar to a frequent-flier program every time someone uses the corporate account number to rent a car from Hertz. Those points can be redeemed for perks like coupons for free rentals.

The CCRC uses these coupons for prizes in raffles and in other promotions and also gives them to staff to use during business travel, Paxton says.

“We’ve even used a four-wheel drive vehicle through the program on snow days, to help pick up essential staff and get them to the nursing home,” he adds.

The Hertz initiative is part of a larger revamp of transportation options at Westminster-Canterbury. Other components include a car donation program, as well as the acquisition of a wheelchair-accessible van that has replaced a more expensive service that had been offered through an outside company.

Paxton thinks that perhaps because it is part of this bigger push, the Hertz offering has gained more steam among residents than the Zipcars.

Overall, Westminster-Canterbury’s transportation innovations are helping the community stand out and are boosting resident satisfaction, Paxton emphasizes.

“People have stood up at town halls and filled out comment cards to praise the program,” he says. “I’m expecting great things.”

‘Charging’ Into the Future

Some seniors might happily embrace car-sharing, but other CCRC residents understandably still place a high value on having their own set of wheels. Increasingly, residents’ vehicles might be powered not by gas but electricity — a fact that led a Maryland CCRC to install an on-site car charging station.

Daniel Kott provided the impetus for the project when he moved to Oak Crest, an Erickson Living community, in 2013. The retired computer programmer owns a Toyota Hybrid Prius, and he asked about a charging station.

The inquiry struck a chord at Oak Crest. The community prides itself both on embracing new technology and being an environmental steward, says Jeff Hohenberger, senior facilities manager.

Hohenberger promptly started to research charging stations. He had a few parameters. Ease of installation was one concern. But he also wanted the ability to start charging a small amount for electricity if demand rises in the future, to prevent people from “camping out” at the charging station if others want to utilize it.

Hohenberger settled on a model that allows two cars to charge simultaneously. It also is high-voltage, meaning it can deliver a full charge in about an hour. And Oak Crest does not have to pay steep monthly fees for this charger, which some other models would have required.

There also is software that can be added to enable the CCRC to start charging people in the future. Drivers would be able to pay simply by swiping their Oak Crest badge, limiting the risk of bank account hacks, Hohenberger notes.

“The installation was a little bit tricky because of getting the proper amount of power to the location,” he says. “We had to excavate a bit of dirt to get to the basement level of the building and run the power over to the pedestal.”

The overall cost was about $22,000 for purchase and installation. Despite the challenges in placing it there, Hohenberger is happy that the charger is close to the community’s sales office.

“If people with an electric car come in for a sales appointment, we can charge their car up for free while they’re here,” he says.

If more electric car owners move to Oak Crest, another charger might be installed closer to the resident apartments. In the meantime, Daniel Kott — whose inquiry began the whole project — is happy.

Kott — who still is the only resident with an electric car — charges up about once a month, according to Hohenberger. He drives over for happy hour and dinner at the clubhouse near the charger, and plugs in. He has a special ID to access the charger and says using it has been “seamless.”

Noting that Oak Crest is about to celebrate its 20th anniversary, Public Affairs Manager Jeff Getek says that the charging station shows how the community is moving into the future while still respecting long-time residents.

“It’s all about balancing, satisfying the needs of existing residents plus the Baby Boomers moving in,” Getek tells SHN.

As Boomers continue to enter senior living, other communities no doubt will be striving for this balance as well. Innovative transportation programs such as these are emerging as a key part of this effort, attracting new prospects and further enhancing quality of life for those already calling a CCRC home.

Written by Tim Mullaney