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Zipcar Founder Discusses Her Vision of a Collaborative Economy

Monday, April 16, 2012

Creating and maximizing a shared infrastructure like those used in carsharing ventures may hold an answer to low-cost transportation innovation.

In today's fast-paced information age, innovating with excess capacity—assets that have already been purchased but that sit idle when not in use—can achieve speed and scale in the transportation sector, said Robin Chase, founder and former CEO of Zipcar and GoLoco.

Chase spoke about the contrast between industrial capitalism versus a collaborative economy during Volpe's "Straight from the Source" series on April 4. To illustrate this difference, she explained that buses and trains are examples of industrial capitalism, while a company like exemplifies a collaborative economy—connecting people in 5,000 cities and 45 countries in just 10 years of business.

In some cases, trade secrets and patents are disappearing in favor of collaborative economies, which focus on idea exchange and open standards, Chase said. Merging excess capacity with a platform for participation enables a collaborative economy, which seeks to maximize participation and share value, she said.

Robin ChaseAs founder and CEO of BuzzCar, a service that brings together car owners and drivers in a carsharing marketplace, Chase empowers individuals to take control of their mobility without looking to government or big businesses for solutions. "Think about collaboratively built infrastructure, which is collaboratively funded," Chase challenged. With excess capacity, there is no need to finance anything; the idea is to utilize what individuals already own. In the case of BuzzCar, car owners earn money when they are not using their vehicles by allowing drivers to rent them for a specified period of time.

Looking to the future, Chase envisions cities as either having no cars or only shared cars—an idea that spurred discussion about the viability of automakers' current ways of doing business.

The "Straight from the Source" speaker series enables an information exchange between the transportation community and today's leaders in transportation. "Straight from the Source" events are held at the Volpe Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and are accessible in person and via webinar.

Above: Robin Chase Speaks at Volpe's Straight from the Source Series (Volpe photo)

Zipcar in front of a city skyline