Saturday, April 25, 2009

My Zipcar Tryout


I signed up for Zipcar earlier this week. Zipcar is a "car sharing" program, not unlike car rentals, but more convenient. You can sign up for an "occasional driver" membership wherein you're charged a yearly fee of $50, and then a $9/$13 per hr charge weekdays/weekends, respectively. This plan, obviously, benefits those who will only need a car on special occasions, like yours truly.

Living in NYC, there's not much you need a car for since everything is either in walking distance or a quick subway ride away. For those who need a vehicle more frequently, however, there is a monthly charge of $50 instead. And once that fee is paid, you can use the cars as often as you want with no additional charges.

Sounds good, no?

Well, I was skeptical. I read around at various different blogs and discussion boards regarding people's experiences with this company. I focused specifically on NYC members. Most of the accounts were positive, but there were a few standout negative replies that got me worried. It appears the biggest complaints were over car availability and cleanliness of the vehicles.

You see, how it works is this: Zipcars are stored in parking lots and garages all over the city. As a member, you login to the website and choose the date and time you want your reservation. Then, a list of cars pop up according to your location. Ideally, you chose the car closest to you and set the reservation. Once this is done, you're set. You walk up to the car, place your member ID card on the windshield, and the doors open automatically and your reservation begins. It's that simple! You can rent by the hour at the aforementioned rate, or for the whole day (24 hour period) at a price of $77/$100. You have to have the car back in the same exact location by the time your reservation is up, or else incur a late charge of $50 for every half hour you are late. Naturally this encourages people to get the cars back so that those with reservations after you won't be left waiting.

It's a nice system, but not without it's problems. Zipcars are left to the courtesy of those who share them to maintain the cleanliness of the vehicle. From the accounts I've heard, this has been met with varying degrees of success here in the city. Some people are truly nasty! Luckily, though, it seems Zipcar has a pretty good reporting service. If you arrive and find your vehicle is filthy, you are encouraged to report it right away. This way, the person before you will get penalized. What this penalty is exactly is not clear to me at this point, but I do know that Zipcar reserves the right to suspend your membership if certain guidelines are not followed. Personally, I think it sounds like a good system.

So, I signed up. The 30-day trial period made it easy for me to decide. Being that I was in the Bronx, I had an extra level of concern as the type of people I live around can accurately be described as sub-human at times. However, I started thinking and realized that most of those people either: 1) don't have valid driver's licenses; or 2) don't have clean driving records. Both these factors are instant disqualifiers for membership. The possession of a credit card is also needed. It might sound like a bygone conclusion in this day and age, but you'd be surprised how many people in the ghetto actually *DON'T* have credit cards. And if they do, they don't fit the other two qualifying factors. Those that do, are generally responsible, decent citizens. The type of people that SHOULD know how to take care of a car, shared or otherwise.

Such was my thinking.

So I reserved a car at a nearby garage for yesterday. I'd planned to drive up to the next county over and visit that bastion of super-unnecessary but oh-so-appreciated wholesale warehouse grocery shopping -- Costco! No more begging and pleading with friends and family members to drive me there every six months now!


So I walked the 2 blocks to the garage, told the attendant that I was looking for their Zipcars, and he showed me to my car already waiting in the front area for me. On first look, I thought: well, this is a much better looking car than I had expected. The vehicle--a Honda Civic sedan--looked almost brand new! The picture above is a bit murky, but this is how I found the car. Zipcar suggests that you walk around the vehicle and check to make sure there are no dents or obvious damage, which I did. Everything look good to me. So then I got in . . . and was shocked by the very clean interior.

Two of my worries were immediately put to rest.

The rest was smooth driving. I first drove all the way down to lower Manhattan to pick up Tarrell, then we headed all the way back up and beyond the Bronx to Westchester county. Traffic was touchy at some spots, but the Civic handled everything like a charm.






The only slight sticking point with me, as you can see in the one pic above, was the kitschy-ness of the large, green Zipcar logo emblazoned on the passenger side of the vehicle. It garnered a few stares, to say the least. But it's a small price to pay for the luxury of an occasional vehicle just minutes away from your doorstep. And the garage fees and gas are all included in the cost of rental, as is insurance. Not bad, really.

So, I'm happy to say that my first outing with Zipcar was an outstanding success! While I'll never be the type of person who just loves driving for the sake of driving (I really don't understand that mindset), I must say that knowing I can have a car on the rare occasions when I really need one is a great resource to have. I hear it's better on the environment, too, which is always a plus! If more and more people would car share . . . .

So, have you used Zipcar? What are you thoughts? Tell me, please.

1 comment:

Kim Kasch said...

I think it's a great idea. I'd give it a try - if we didn't already have a car.

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