Saturday, 26 March 2011

Zipcar... Not at All Like Bikeshare

So, we have finally signed up for Zipcar, and I thought it might be useful to share my impressions. While I had imagined a motorised version of a bikeshare program, Zipcar is a different thing entirely.

Here is how it works: First you buy a yearly membership. It is worth noting that some employers have programs for employees to try it free, which was the case with us - but otherwise it's $60 per year plus a $25 application fee (so essentially you pay $85 to sign up). You are then able to rent a Zipcar by the hour at rates that start at $7.50 per hour. The rate depends on the type of car you need. So, for instance, a compact sedan might be $7.50, but a truck or SUV would be more like $12. You can also rent a Zipcar for an entire day, and the daily rates start from $69. To use a car you must reserve it, which can be done online or via smartphone. You specify in advance the exact time you will be getting and returning the car, and when finished, you must return the car to the same location from which you got it.

I can see how this system would be useful for those who need a car for short and pre-planned trips to the grocery/  hardware/ furniture store, or for meetings with clients that are short and finite in nature. However, our needs are different and there is no way Zipcar would work for us in most circumstances.

Scenario 1: We need to go to our photo studio or to a photoshoot in a far-off location, and to bring a bunch of enormous equipment with us. We will then be staying there for 5 hours working, maybe longer - depends how it goes. And it's the weekend.

Problems: We'd have to rent the car for en entire day, because at the hourly rate it would not be worth it. Either way, the rate would be quite high, because we'd need a large vehicle. Additionally Zipcar's weekend rates are higher than weekday rates, which would make the fee greater still. Car rental makes more sense than Zipcar.

Scenario 2: There is an urgent situation and we need a car right away.

Problems: We check the Zipcar reservation site and there are no cars available in any locations within 2 miles from us for the next hour and a half (This is true: I just checked). We also do not know for how long we need the car - could be 45 minutes, or could be 3 hours. A taxi makes more sense than Zipcar.

So... since 90% of the times we need a car, it is one of the above scenarios, Zipcar is not really the right choice for us. However, I think that if Zipcar worked more like a bikeshare program, it could be more useful for everyone. In many areas, there is a dense grid of Zipcar locations - so why not make it so that a car can be checked out from one location and returned to another? I am sure there are good logistical reasons why this is not done, and as always no system is perfect. I hope this was useful for those considering a Zipcar membership and wondering how the system works.


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