An Easy Way To Zip

With gas prices well over $4 a gallon in many parts of the nation, the cost related to car ownership has increased sharply in the last ten years. Unless you have been living under a rock this is not a surprise to you. While we still talk about horsepower and styling, increasingly the conversation on everyone’s lips is fuel economy. Solutions to this problem have included (but are not limited to) high efficiency designs, hybrid power trains, fully alternative fuel methods and in some extreme cases the end of car ownership as a whole. In this new car culture, one of the hardest hit have been urban drivers and young adults, especially in colleges. These are drivers that may not always need a car but used to own one for more occasional use. Now these same users are opting for other means of transport over shouldering the raising cost of ownership. A feasible solution, that has been postulated before, is the idea of car sharing and short term rental. Business models such as those used by ZipCar have proven to be highly lucrative and satisfactory option for many of these recently disenfranchised ex-auto owners. With a fleet of easily accessed and consistently maintained vehicles, you can see why this could be a pretty useful options. So let’s take a closer look.

There When I Need It

Auto ownership has always been related with the concept of independence. Now if you lived in a city, this is not always the case. The existence of subways, buses and even taxis make it pretty easy to get around. It even allows you to skip over the hassles of parking, fuel and maintenance. The downside of course, is that you are tied pretty closely to a bus or train schedule you did not make. More difficult still is getting out of the city or having to carry more than a small carry on. This is usually when city dwellers will resort to the exorbitant costs of taxis or being bound into insane favors to borrow a friend’s car. In this column the car sharing idea is the clear victor. It combines the utility of car ownership, without any of the hassle and is as readily available as any form of metro transit. ZipCar in particular is extremely well saturated in most major American cities. As you see in the picture below, you can trip and would probably fall on to one of these moving billboards for eco-freindly auto ownership. There is an ample number of cars that you can pretty much reserve, walk up to and start driving. Doesn’t get much easier than that.

Planning Ahead

So we know that the cars themselves are easy to find. But what does it take to get in them ? Getting around on the subway and bus doesn’t require you to have much more than some kind of of prepaid transit card. (It also requires some basic common sense, but that’s a whole different rant. GET OFF THE SUBWAY TOURIST !! .. Ok Ok I’m back). Hailing a cab, assuming you live somewhere civilized, usually doesn’t take much more than a pair of thumbs. Driving a car, on the other hand, takes a little bit more. Both from a driving standpoint and from a paperwork stand point. This is even more true when its not your car. Obviously, first and foremost, you need a valid license. Obviously, if you’ve been outside of your front door, you know they will give this to almost anyone. No real worries there. The harder part, especially for the automotive fans with a heavy foot who read this site, is the standards that ZipCar has for its drivers. To become a member of the ZipCar community you need to have a pretty clean record. Must have your license for at least a year, which is the easy part. No more than three “incidents” (moving violations, fender benders, ect.) in the past 3 years and no more than one in the last 18 months. Most importantly, absolutely no flirting with intoxicated driving (something you shouldn’t be doing anyway). With that all in mind, I guess it might be easier to just take the train or bus unless you absolutely need to.

Ready, Get Set … You Know The Rest

When you have to go, you have to go. For most of us in the real world, things happen. When you just need to get moving, there isn’t much time for planning or much preamble at all. Now jumping on the train, subway, bus or into a cab really requires some pretty minimal planning. A credit card, some cash or a quick transit card and your off. With that said, for car sharing or short renting to work, it’s got to be that easy. ZipCar does a pretty great job of doing this. Once you are a car carrying member of the club, getting a car is pretty easy. You simply hop on your smart phone and reserve the car for when you need it. It could be as soon as right now. Then just walk up to where ever that car is parked, swipe your card over the built in RFID reader in the windshield and the car opens. The keys are inside and you are off to the races. If you are the last person on this planet without a iPhone or Android, you can also do this from the convenience of your web browser. If you are going to compete with local transportation to get around town, ease of use is critical. I’m willing to say that this round is a tie. Both are immediately available, so it comes down to situational need.

A Girl’s Gotta Have Options

We all know that every mode of transport isn’t right for every job. If you need to haul anything around town or maybe even get out of town for what ever reason, most public transportation systems have reached their peak. You could cab it, but thats going to put a pretty nice dent in your budget. Even when using a cab, hauling odd-sized cargo is no easy task. Here the ZipCar gets a pretty clear leg up. Not only can you grab a car when you need it, but it can be the right car for the job. They sport a pretty large variety of options ranging from tiny get get around town cars, like the Mini Cooper to something with a little more “oomph” like a BMW. While you might have to go a little bit further than your closest car to get the one you want but having the option to get something that fits your needs is worth the small inconvenience. All the cars have the ZipCar logo on them, but are otherwise standard vehicles. They even have hybrids for those of you who are carbon-footprint sensitive. If variety is the spice of life, then this must be Indian food. It is especially convenient for odd jobs like picking up that huge painting that your Great Aunt Millie left you in the will. Something that I sure as hell wouldnt want to lug across town on a subway (or “tube” depending on your accent).

Zipping Up The Thought

Looking back on this, the numbers add up in ZipCar’s favor. Truth be told, I live in New York City and still own my car. While I do make concessions like a fuel econ friendly engine and a generally smaller car, I do still love owning a car. There is a certain sense of freedom that is innate to owning a vehicle that is beyond most logic. But that is exactly it, if your Modus Operandi is filtered by anything more than a sheer emotional attachment to your car, then this option makes quite a bit of sense. In fact, ZipCar has even worked out the over all monthly savings of using their service versus car ownership. All and all an interesting option. Or you could just go Canadian and get a bike.

Words By – Hari Mani

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