Friday, December 31, 2004

Are car-share plans the right compromise between private cars and public transportation?

Technology Review has a first-person AP article on Zipcar and Flexcar.

Both services rent cars around the clock in increments of a half-hour or longer. Prices in Boston range from $8.50 an hour to $12.50, depending on the vehicle model. Gas is included. That's not bad when you also factor in the insurance, maintenance and repair costs that come with ownership. …

To make a reservation, I simply visit Zipcar's Web site and am immediately directed to my personal Zipcar page -- my computer retains my logon information. If a computer's not handy, I can phone in the reservation.

Online, I get a list of five cars in assigned parking spaces within a few blocks of my apartment. I can also sort the list by rates or the cars I rent most frequently. I also see a round-the-clock schedule indicating which cars are available when. …

Flexcar customers can enter a car using their card anytime, without needing reservations, provided nobody else has reserved the car.

After I start my Zipcar, I can drive as far as I want and refuel using a Zipcar card at the company's expense -- gas is factored into the hourly rates, along with insurance.

These days, I reserve cars for an extra half-hour to be on the safe side, even though I have to pay for the time if I return the car early. I learned the hard way about the $25 minimum late fee when I got stuck in traffic and couldn't get back in time.
When we were in Boston last week, our host mentioned Zipcar. So I guess it is becoming increasingly popular. But it's been around for a while and still has only 30,000 customers. (Flexcar has 25,000.)

After Boston, we spent some time in NY. The subways are marvelous. Go anywhere you want whenever you want. Who needs a car? I'm not yet convinced that Zipcar and Flexcar are an effective compromise.

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