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Thursday, February 28, 2008

Someone Likes Zipcar

posted by on February 28 at 13:30 PM

Over on Seattle Livejournal. His reasons: You can park in multiple spaces if you’re getting the car from a “pod” of several Zipcar spots; the key stays in the car and the car unlocks faster; the online reservation system has maps; and they charge fees as an incentive for people to behave.

Yeah, all those things are true. But it’s also true that, as I noted in my piece this week, Zipcar is substantially more expensive than Flexcar, and focuses more on profits than the environmental principles that are nominally part of its mission.

In addition to higher annual fees, cars that used to cost $8 or $9 an hour went up to $9.50 or $10.50 an hour, depending on whether a car is regular or “premium.” The “premium” category includes not just luxury vehicles like SUVs, Minis, and BMWs, but hybrids—including Flexcar’s old Honda Civic hybrids, their Flexcar stickers removed and replaced by Zipcar’s sunny “Wheels When You Want Them” motto.

Zipcar’s Kennedy says the company charges based on the cost of the car, not its environmental footprint, and that “the hourly rate of the hybrids is compatible with other Zipcars at the same purchase price.”

Another costly change is that all reservations must now be made in hour increments, meaning that a half-hour trip that used to cost less than $5 now costs $12 or more.

One thing I didn’t have room to mention in the paper is that Zipcar’s first move in the Los Angeles market was to remove all vehicles that weren’t based on college campuses—leaving thousands of loyal Flexcar members without transportation. It’s hard to reconcile that with the fact that Zipcar purports to care about “the significant, positive environmental impact of car sharing” (and brags on its web site that each Zipcar takes 15 privately owned vehicles off the road). Combine that with the fact that Zipcar charges more for hybrids, and that they specialize in flashy, fuel-guzzling cars like BMWs and Ford Mustangs, and it starts to look like Zipcar cares more about its bottom line than its environmental mission.

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I think I'll stick with the free UW carpool cars that any student, staff, or faculty can rent by the hour with no deposit and a cheaper rate - only thing is they have to be taken from and returned to one of the campus locations.

Posted by Will in Seattle | February 28, 2008 1:37 PM

Whoever posted that is probably a corporate shill, trying to do some kind of guerrilla damage control. I mean, what kind of idiot would seriously think that having the car unlock in five second as opposed to fifteen is a benefit?

I think I might just take a taxi from now on, as it'll end up being less expensive. And I'm actually beginning to question the utility of exempting them from the rental car tax...

Posted by bma | February 28, 2008 1:41 PM

The bottom line has to be written in black ink or the environmental mission doesn't mean anything. Not that focusing on Mustangs and BMW even sounds like good business. But unless this is subsidized from outside, it has to become economically viable as a prerequisite for doing any good for the environment.

Posted by oljb | February 28, 2008 1:44 PM

noooo, if they put big "We are Green" signs on the door, they should get the tax exemption. "Regular" car rental companies shouldn't though, because they don't market themselves as green. IF you follow the logic of the tax exemption (the presumption that having a part time car means less driving overall) then pretty soon you'd have to exempt all taxis and all car rental companies from the tax....then we couldn't finance the sports stadiums.

Posted by unPC | February 28, 2008 1:47 PM

I agree with the above, this came out AFTER your article Erica? It is damage control on ZipCar's part and really the pluses they listed are not all that great when you think about it.

Bottom line: I used to spend around $200.00 a month with Flexcar (I used it CONSTANTLY!) but ZipCar, well I am on the minimal use plan of $50.00 a month and will cab most of the time. My car near Wedgewood I am almost certian will be gone in a couple of months. And probably other cars will be taken out of service due to lack of demand. Just watch.

Posted by Andrew | February 28, 2008 1:53 PM

By offering BMWs and convertibles, Zipcar reveals that they really don't understand their own market: people without cars who simply want to grocery shop, buy manure from Home Depot or pick-up their wife at the airport.

I don't need flash. Just give me an '85 LeBaron.

Posted by DOUG. | February 28, 2008 1:57 PM

are you defining anything not a hybrid a gas guzzler? you lump bmw's and mustangs into that category, but my 3 series Bimmer gets ~25 mpg in town--not too shabby for a performance car and definately not what i consider a gas guzzler.

Posted by gas guzzler | February 28, 2008 1:58 PM

Please never, ever, ever link to the Livejournal Seattle community.

YOU are the Seattle blog. YOU.


Posted by Non | February 28, 2008 1:58 PM

Ahhh ECB are you there? I just read that Livejournal blog: THAT was even worth you commenting on? Because THAT piece of dribble was the litarary equivilant of the that turd that breaks off half way while coming out and it take a roll of toilet paper to wipe up afterwards?

Posted by Andrew | February 28, 2008 2:14 PM

Will, do you mean U-Car? You do realize that those are only for official University business, right?

Posted by Levislade | February 28, 2008 2:17 PM

You can't book by the half hour? WTF!

Posted by Anon | February 28, 2008 2:17 PM

I bet you ECB will find evidence that zip car hates women too.

Posted by cbc | February 28, 2008 2:20 PM

company is losing money - company needs to get more out of each car to stay in business - company changes rates and rules - customers respond by getting mad, using the service less and urging other people to do the same -

how again will this work to keep the service available?

apparently the only way this will work is to make it a public service like the buses.

Posted by ouch | February 28, 2008 2:24 PM

I don't mind that Zipcar is financially oriented. They're not a charity. Nor was Flexcar, who raised rates continuously.

What I mind is that I have been without a car for 13 days because Zipcar didn't handle the transition well. And nobody has been able to tell us if our plan will translate since it was an experimental plan. And that a call made on Saturday got answered the next Wed.

Those issues are making me doubt Zipcar before I even step into one of their autos.

The irony is that now many Flexcar members are re-evaluating whether or not it's time to buy a car.

Posted by MonkeyNose | February 28, 2008 2:58 PM

Zipcar is your new bicycle.

Zipcar sent you flowers.

Zipcar warmed up your car for you.

Posted by zipcar luva | February 28, 2008 3:14 PM

in my experience zipcar has been terrible. when i needed a car over the holiday weekend, the same troubles hit me. i had "activated" my card on friday only to find that since i have a new washington state drivers license Zipcar had to process my driving history all over again.

i miss the flexcar $3.50 cars in the downtown area on the weekend. that was so nice.

i was a 3 year member of flexcar before the switch to zipcar. i dont know if i can handle it. i may just buy a used car...

Posted by jessica | February 28, 2008 3:19 PM

I am the one who wrote the Livejournal entry. I assure you I am not a corporate shill or in any way associated with Zipcar or Flexcar or Enterprise. I'm a self-employed guy on Capitol Hill, who sold my car when I moved here, and am a frequent customer of Enterprise, and an occasional user of Flexcar.

One thing in your article jumped out at me: "So far, neither company has turned a profit." So you're complaining that a corporation is trying to earn a profit for its investors? Would you rather have them go out of business and not have car sharing at all? Would you rather have them subsidized by the government? Fine, that could work, but then you're still paying more with higher taxes and government agency inefficencies.

In your talk about rates, you conveniently leave out the fact that they give you a $50 credit for joining, essentially waving the annual fee on the basic plan.

You say that the rate went from $8-9 to 9.50-10.50 per hour. Are you comparing apples to apples in terms of plans? I was on the basic Flexcar plan, and my rate went down from 10 to 9.50 per hour. Personally, I find that a few bucks a month is insignificant, not significant.

So you complain that the hybrids cost more? So you want the corporation to shell out more so you can feel good, but you don't want to shell out more?

You are mistaken when you say that reservations are now only in 1-hour increments. I see that there is now a 1-hour minimum, but you can still make a 1.5 or 2.5 hour reservation. Is there really anything you can accomplish with a 30 minute trip? Yes, the one guy says it makes more sense to take a cab for that. Yes, I agree. Take the cab, save on parking, and quit whining.

There is one more benefit of Zipcar that I forgot to mention. There is a more forgiving cancellation window of 3 hours, as opposed to Flexcar's 8 or 12 hour window.

It would be nice to have a second company to provide competition, but I think the regular rental car companies like Enterprise provide competition and will keep costs under control. For me, I often use Enterprise when I need a car for more than a few hours because it's cheaper than Zipcar. Why aren't you free to do the same? Vote with your feet and your dollars.

I agree that the transition period was handled poorly and they could have done much better. I made other arrangements (taking the bus or a regular rental car) during the transition to avoid the hassle.

You say that "Zipcar cares more about its bottom line than its environmental mission." Yes, it's a corporation and until environmental laws are changed to be punitive, that's what corporations will keep doing and their shareholders expect it. But it's sad that you overlook these green benefits with your one-sided sweep of the hand:

My basic point was that all of the changes were not bad. I was looking for the silver lining. I'm disappointed that you gave such a one-sided look at the story instead of balanced version of it like journalists do.

Posted by SeattleBrad | February 28, 2008 3:31 PM

A balanced version, SB?

You're new around here, aren't you ...

Posted by Will in Seattle | February 28, 2008 3:36 PM

I joined FlexCar about a year and a half ago, but I just canceled my ZipCar membership. About 6 months ago a friend gave me a car. My experience is that in America if you don't own a car or a TV, eventually someone will offer to give you one they don't want anymore. The car is 10 years old and stinks, but it gets me around. I kept my FlexCar membership because I'm A PCC member, hence no fees for not using the service. But ZipCar wants to bill me $50 next summer just for belonging. Screw that. Plus the new rates make conventional car rental equally affordable without actually having to belong to something.

Posted by dreamflying | February 28, 2008 3:40 PM

I would caution against idolizing City Car Share in San Francisco... ECB points out that, yes, their hourly rate is lower than Zipcar's. What she forgets to mention is that drivers also pay PER MILE -- forty cents per mile, usually. My boyfriend is a CCS member, and uses the car to drive his elderly mom to dr's appointments, grocery shopping, etc. Those miles add up, and definitely impact the bottom line of his monthly bill. Zipcar is flawed, yes, but really, as others have said, I feel it's the lesser of two evils -- owning a car? Hell no! Dealing with Zipcar? frustrating sometimes, wish it were cheaper, but generally still a better idea.

Posted by FormerSeattlite | February 28, 2008 3:58 PM

Did ZipCar give their donation to Obama instead of Hillary? I can't figure out what ECB is rambling about here.

Posted by Cato | February 28, 2008 3:59 PM

@Will: Ha, I'm actually not new around here.

@Erica: Sorry for that last journalist dig. I do enjoy reading your stuff and the pointed pieces in the Stranger.

Posted by SeattleBrad | February 28, 2008 4:02 PM

"Zipcar cares more about its bottom line than its environmental mission."

Look out folks, Erica learned about capitalism.

Are you complaining to Honda or Toyota that their hybrids cost more than the non-hybrid counterpart? If you're going to bitch about something, bitch about the lack of government subsidization. Of course, that might cause you to examine your own bottom line, and that's, like, immoral, or something.

Just because something makes you feel tingly inside doesn't mean you deserve it for free. Much like an abortion.

Posted by w7ngman | February 28, 2008 4:09 PM

Whoa, the $5/hr folks in San Fran charge 0.40 per mile?!?! Does writing for the Stranger absolve you of all responsibility for fact checking?

Posted by SeattleBrad | February 28, 2008 4:54 PM

Screw that profit motive.

After all, its all about making self absorbed cunts like ECB feel good about saving the planet...


Oh and before you get all pissed off about the C-Word, move to Scotland. It's used like Asshole. That is the way I mean it. I am all about increasing multi-culturalism.

Posted by ecce homo | February 28, 2008 4:55 PM

SeattleBrad @17:

As the guy quoted in the article regarding taking a cab rather than Zipcar, let me clarify: I'm not whining.

It was a pragmatic economic decision to not transfer my Flexcar membership to Zipcar. For short trips I'll take a cab, for longer trips I'll rent a car. There are options, and Zipcar's business niche is pretty useless to me.

And it's not all about the money. If Zipcar were to offer better services (or maybe even equal services) to what Flexcar offered, I might consider renewing my membership. But many of their regulations are punitive toward the customer and detract from the value of their service.

Posted by Doug Nellis | February 28, 2008 6:47 PM

I love Zipcar. People bitch too much in Seattle. A bunch of spoiled brats. It's way better than buying a second car and the differences between zip and flexcar are negligible.

Doesn't anyone else think it's fun to try out different cars? Super fun!

Posted by splash | February 28, 2008 6:50 PM

I mainly upset that Flexcar is gone because there are no more free nights, from 12AM-6AM. You can imagine how good a deal this was for people who work nights and only have to pay $75 a month for a car. I used the car about 30 hours a month during mostly nights. Zipcar also took the car from my apartment complex, when I know there were about 4 or more people who used it on a regular basis.

Posted by epiphany | March 1, 2008 9:55 AM

I am mainly upset that Flexcar is gone because there are no more free nights, from 12AM-6AM. You can imagine how good of a deal this was for people who work nights and only have to pay $75 a month for a car. I used the car about 30 hours a month mainly all during the night. Zipcar also took the car from my apartment complex, when I know there were about 4 or more people who used it on a regular basis.

Posted by epiphany | March 1, 2008 9:58 AM

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