Donal's picture

    Car Sharing Closer

    Zipcar has been parking their Minis and Priuses closer and closer to my office, and now parks cars in two locations, each only two or three blocks away. One location has a Honda Insight and a Volvo S40, the other has an Insight and a Toyota Tacoma pickup truck. I wish Zipcar had been this close two years ago when I sold my my 13 year old car to a kid at the shop rather than spend $750 on needed repairs.

    Public transportation required too many connections, so for over a year, I was spending about $46 to rent a subcompact car for a full day from Enterprise just to attend meetings in nearby Catonsville. Renting Aveos, Versas and Calibers was cheaper in the long run than buying a new car and paying for city parking, but Zipcar would have cost me only $8/hour - plus the $60 annual membership and $25 application fee. Sigh.

    Car sharing didn't start with Zipcar. Auto-Marxists in Montreal, Quebec City, Gatineau and Sherbrooke have offered Communauto since 1994. Montreal is now trying to integrate the car sharing scheme with Bixi, their bike sharing service.

    Zipcar started in Cambridge MA in 2000, acquired Seattle-based Flexcar in 2007, and seems to be expanding. But it isn't yet profitable. And although their IPO went well, financial types warn that Zipcar's real rivals will be Enterprise, Hertz and Avis - companies with thousands of locations. Of course, when the personal computer boom started, Radio Shack had thousands of locations, too.

    I used to ask about car-sharing at Enterprise, and was met with a blank stare, but they now have a car sharing site called Wecar. Hertz has a car sharing site called Connect. Both of these programs seem to be targeted at college campuses. I met a lot of ambitious young people at Enterprise desks, trying to keep the customers happy on the old rent-a-car model, but there's a lot of standing around while they try to upgrade you, while they try to sell you short term insurance, while they move cars around and they usually aren't open on Sundays. I think it will be as tough for them to switch seamlessly to the sharing business model as it was for GM to embrace the smaller vehicle market.

    But with fuel costing more, and fuel-efficient cars costing more, and jobs harder to find and keep, it makes sense that city residents are going to want more options for short term transportation than cabs and rental cars.



    Like many New Yorkers, I have no car, so I use zip car fairly often. I love not having to deal with the rental office. It's also great not to have to deal with refueling the tank to the exact level at which you rented the car. But there are a few disadvantages relative to rentals.

    - On the weekends, which is when I most often need a car, zipcars tend to be more expensive than rentals (even after factoring gas & insurance)

    - Stiff penalties. You can book a car for free up to 24 hours before you use it, but if you cancel your reservation 23:59 before use, you pay the whole day, regardless of whether someone else rents it. And if you return a car late, you're charged $50 per hour.

    - In NYC, zipcars book up. Not just the convenient one around the corner--the whole city. To get a reservation within a week before your trip, you often have to repeatedly ping the site to look for a slot to open. Maybe you finally get one far away or a more expensive model then you prefer, so you reserve it and then keep pinging the site to find a closer cheaper option. Very annoying. On the other hand, I've also suffered from this problem at a rental agency:

    Good to know, especially the penalty part.

    Car availability seems in need of Planetary AC to sort it all out. I've walked to the rental office, and had to wait, or then been driven to another location to pick up a car.

    I'd never read that story. I love that AC stands for analog computer.

    What I would like to ask the AC is why zipcar doesn't set up a graduated cancelation fee. It should cost more the closer to the rental point. Also, if they had a small cancelation fee no matter when you canceled, then fewer people would sit on car reservations just in case they planned to go.

    And there is Citywheels in Cleveland, Ohio.

    I never heard of this before!

    Thanks for the report!

    I love my Detroit-made Jeep but I'm in Manhattan and these days I'm only using it like twice a month.  I have been thinking about giving it to my daughter, who is moving down to Florida where people drive everywhere, but it's hard to let go.  Genghis' description above about going through the process of getting a zipcar is giving me hives just thinking about it. 

    I have been thinking about giving it to my daughter, who is moving down to Florida where people drive everywhere,

    FLORIDA !!!??? May God have mercy on her soul.

    It's a nice place to visit but I wouldn't want to live there. I know. I live there.


    Don't get me started, not about Florida where my folks live too, but about the whole thing!

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