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Monday, June 30, 2008

Zipcar Wants You Off That Bus

posted by on June 30 at 10:48 AM

Riding the 7 from Columbia City to Capitol Hill this Sunday, I spotted this ad for Zipcar, the Cambridge-based carsharing company that bought up hometown institution Flexcar earlier this year.


The ad shows a truck, taken from the “on the ground, about to get run over” perspective that’s commonly used to sell SUVs. It reads: “Go ahead: ask the bus driver if she’ll take you antiquing.”

The message here is fundamentally anti-transit: You’re on the bus. Doesn’t that suck? If you rented one of our trucks (or Minis, or BMWs, or SUVs), you’d have the freedom to do whatever you want. Unlike on the bus. Which sucks.

Once again, the contrast with Flexcar couldn’t be more obvious. Flexcar’s last ad campaign sold the carsharing service as a supplement to Metro, not a superior way of getting around: “Flexcar and Metro: Combining the convenience of transit and car-sharing to provide a cost-effective alternative to private car ownership.” The idea was that you didn’t have to have a car to get around, because you could take the bus to work and run errands and check out a Flexcar for trips that required more flexibility. Zipcar, in contrast, advertises it service as a replacement for transit. Just another reason—in addition to the fact that Zipcar charges a premium for enviro-friendly hybrids, fines users if they don’t fill up the tank, provides no incentive for keeping the cars clean, charges you $3.50 to talk to a human being, has an insurance deductible of $500, and just costs more overall—that I’m using Zipcar less and less, and taking transit more and more.

RSS icon Comments


Way to fuck up a good thing, Zipcar!

Posted by Greg | June 30, 2008 10:59 AM

who gives a shit how they advertize. if it gets more people care sharing great.

Now if we're pissed with the new ownership, then call their customer service line. if you're not alone they will respond. in the meantime, let them beat up on transit (if you could even call it that)

Posted by ho' know | June 30, 2008 11:00 AM

ECB, this post is a bit reactionary. *SHOCK*
Ad-Schmad. No one lives by bus or car or car share alone. Last year I was in Cambridge with the evil Zip Car empire and used their car once for every ten bus/T rides. I could not have made it there without either.

Posted by StrangerDanger | June 30, 2008 11:01 AM


Posted by Mr. Poe | June 30, 2008 11:06 AM

We have zipcar in Chicago, but we also have iGo, which is a nonprofit, and my carless friends love. I'm gonna be selling my car soon and plan on using it. Maybe Seattle could encourage a similar endeavor.

Posted by P to the J | June 30, 2008 11:07 AM

Why do you think Flexcar sold to Zip? Because they were going broke or were already broke. If you want for profit car hourly rentals, support your Zippy.

Posted by ouch | June 30, 2008 11:08 AM

Are you looking to hate on Zipcar for some reason? The ad is merely pointing out a very real limitation of the bus--namely they're not going to let you drag your antique Chippendale high-boy dresser on the #7. Sometimes, there's a legit reason to use a truck, van, or suv, like when you need to move a great big piece of furniture.

Posted by Westside forever | June 30, 2008 11:10 AM

The bus *does* suck. Pretending it doesn't won't make it suck any less.

Posted by elenchos | June 30, 2008 11:14 AM

Well, yeah, Zipcar isn't public transportation. It's a private company. But this is a good demonstration of how public need and the free market often work diametrically from each other.

Posted by thehim | June 30, 2008 11:15 AM

that is even too pompous and ridiculous for my tastes.

Posted by pretentious | June 30, 2008 11:16 AM

I often agree with you, Erica, but why do you have to make things up to support your point? The photo of this truck is taken from above (you can tell because you can see the hood and the windshield, which I never have a good view of when I'm about to be run over), and if anything the perspective and composition of the ad make it look diminutive and far away.

Posted by Levislade | June 30, 2008 11:18 AM

The ad doesn't seem to be anti-transit as a whole.; there are limitations to mass transit and they must be acknowledged. I tried to take a small chair I bought at a flea market on the bus and was told by the drive I could not bring it on unless I was willing to hold it in my lap. Luckily it was small enough to do that.

Posted by inkweary | June 30, 2008 11:19 AM

No, see, this is the hard-hitting, "edgy" "new journalism." Define the company by what its MARKETING says it was, not by what is was really -- a company formed to make a profit, which couldn't make a profit with the business model it had chosen, and which sold out to another company with another business model -- for a profit.

But no. Read the postings of the shill known as ECB, and Flexcar was either a nonprofit, a free service, or an eleemosynary institution -- anything but what it REALLY was -- a for-profit car-rental company with a failed business model.

Meet the "new journalism," same as the old, and just as infested with hacks and flacks.

Posted by ivan | June 30, 2008 11:20 AM

The bus DOES suck

Posted by Clint | June 30, 2008 11:21 AM

i'm a zipcar member AND I HATE FUCKING ZIPCAR. i've been on the bus much more frequently than when i was a flexcar member.

Posted by d | June 30, 2008 11:21 AM

I've seen those Zipcar ads up here in Vancouver, too, and .. ugh. I loved Flexcar; I'm so glad I don't have to go to Zipcar.

Up here, we have Co-operative Auto Network, which is a non-profit auto co-op. $2.50/hour for any vehicle (including vans and trucks; Zipcar doesn't even have vans up here, ugh), plus a per-km rate. It always seems to end up way cheaper than Zipcar; the staff are really friendly; and they have vehicles -everywhere-.

Someone should start one down there.

Posted by Cow | June 30, 2008 11:22 AM

Err, they are advertising themselves as a supplement to transit. Essentially, this ad says "you're on a bus, but what the fuck are you going to do when you need to haul an armoire 25 miles?"

Zipcar is self-consciously not affordable for people who drive more than a few times a month, and they fairly consistently advertise as a solution or alternative to renting/borrowing cars for specialized trips. This is no different. Quit your whining.

Posted by Tdub | June 30, 2008 11:22 AM

Oh, come on.

The point is, you can't use transit to go pick up a new couch.

Conversely, you wouldn't use Zipcar for a daily commute.

But Zipcar + transit are like chocolate & peanut butter. Taken together, you've got the best of everything.

Posted by Eric Arrr | June 30, 2008 11:23 AM

Erica is very wrong in this instance. Anyone who has tried to take anything a little bit big on the bus with them knows how much it sucks.

Posted by Ryan on Summit | June 30, 2008 11:23 AM

ECB --

Compare and contrast this post with Savage's on the disposable Wall-E wristwatch. Note that each is making a similar point: Shining a light on some variation of hypocrisy. Note too that Savage points out the facts, and saves outrage for the reader to reach on her own accord. Your post includes the outrage.

Further note that Savage uses outrage sparingly, and when he does, it gets a reader's attention.

By comparison, your collective editorial content comes off of as a Norm Schram.

Seriously, please tone down the over-the-top outrage and sweeping assessments. Doing so will enhance your overall influence.

Posted by oneway | June 30, 2008 11:26 AM

To echo @11 - Erica, do you REALLY think that truck picture was taken from ground level? If so, I think it clears up a lot of the questions I've had about your perspectives on things (and the quality of your reporting).

Posted by sleestak | June 30, 2008 11:29 AM

Overreact much?

The ad clearly isn't trying to say to use zipcar instead of the bus for normal uses, just that some things (like moving furniture) can't be done via the bus.

Posted by Trouble | June 30, 2008 11:33 AM

Outrageous! I frequently ask that bus drivers take me antiquing, and they've always accommodated my request.

Posted by mattymatt | June 30, 2008 11:54 AM

i thought "antiquing" was when you throw flour in the face of someone who's sleeping.

Posted by max solomon | June 30, 2008 11:55 AM

@6 says: Why do you think Flexcar sold to Zip? Because they were going broke or were already broke.

Even if flexcar was going broke in general (which I don't think has been proven), it has been shown that Seattle was one of its "strongest markets". People here loved Flexcar a lot. Zipcar had zero interest in finding out from its Seattle members why the flexcar market was so strong here (i.e. why they loved flexcar so much).

Posted by stinkbug | June 30, 2008 11:57 AM

i hate zipcar!

this is my story...
while in cannon beach 3 weeks ago, a car driving out of a parallel spot sideswiped my parallel parked zipcar. four scratches. literally! my thoughts "this will bite me in the ass later if i don't do the right thing and report the accident."

below is a letter from zipcar one week after i filed the accident report.

"Dear Jessica,

We have completed the repairs to Iseman for a total of $576.00. Per our member agreement, members are responsible for damage incurred during their reservation when there is no ability to recover payment from another party. You are responsible for up to the $500.00 damage fee.

I have attached the estimate of repairs and photos for your records.

The amount of $500 has been charged to your account and will be processed on your next billing date. Your account is now unsuspended and you are free to reserve Zipcars.

Thank you for your cooperation in this matter and let me know if you have any questions. Thank you and safe Zipping!"

isn't that nice?! assholes! yeah, i have questions alright. why this incident only costs zipcar $76 and underpaid 9-5 office worker $500 for effin' paint! bullshit.

i hate them! HATE!

Posted by jessica r | June 30, 2008 12:14 PM

jessica, read this:

and/or go to google and search on: zipcar $500 deductable

Posted by stinkbug | June 30, 2008 12:18 PM

Aside from that $35 credit for switching from Flexcar, I haven't used Zipcar at all. Bicycle + normal car rental FTW!

Posted by Westlake, son! | June 30, 2008 12:19 PM


Don't pay it jessica! Unless your membership agreement says there's a $500 deductible, then you don't have to pay.

Posted by elenchos | June 30, 2008 12:21 PM

I dropped Zipcar two months after the merger. The service sucked and have replaced it with taking the taxi when I would normally need a car. And the taxi with tip has been cheaper and more reliable.

Posted by Cato the Younger Younger | June 30, 2008 12:23 PM

Are any of you actually members of Zipcar (and former members of Flexcar) or are you just compelled to lash back at anything Erica writes?

I am actually a member of Zipcar, and was with Flexcar for a year and a half before the transition took place. Erica isn't slamming car-sharing--after all, she was and is a member too--she is pointing out how much the gigantic, for-profit ownership of a company can diminish its actual effectiveness and rider-friendliness.

Just a couple of things: About eight months ago, when I locked my cell-phone in a Flexcar, a member and employee of Flexcar DROPPED IT OFF at my apartment after taking time out of her evening to go and get into the Flexcar.

I have never spoken to anyone from Zipcar; however, I have been charged (erroneously) a $50 late fee and a $20 fee for a reservation I ended up canceling.

Furthermore, evidence that Zipcar is not the environmentally-friendly alternative it posits itself as: the "premium" cars include hybrids, BMW's, and fancy SUV's. Seems more to me like a convenient way to "zip" around town in something cool versus being actually utilitarian.

Posted by Elizabeth | June 30, 2008 12:53 PM


Is iGo in Chicago part of Zipcar? I know that FlexCar and iGo had a "relationship" before the buy out where you could use iGo if you were a Flex Car member.

I wrote iGo an e-mail asking if they are part of Zipcar and if they are not what the chances of them setting up shop in Seattle. Maybe if a bunch of us showed interest in getting them to set up a few cars in Seattle on a trial run some good old fashioned competition will run ZipCar out of town and get we can get something better in it's place.

Posted by Cato the Younger Younger | June 30, 2008 1:01 PM

It's not anti-transit to suggest that there are some things you can do much better with a car-share than with a bus.

Posted by Trevor | June 30, 2008 1:10 PM

you should quit smoking pot before getting on the bus

Posted by john | June 30, 2008 1:15 PM

Here in Washington, DC, Zipcar has pushed exactly the model you describe. They've reserved lots of spaces at the metro stations at the outskirts of the city, encouraging people to metro out of town and pick up a zipcar once they get as far as the metro will take them, and, in fact, have worked closely with the DC metro system to arrange parking at their facilities and such. To echo an above comment, the it may be that the anti-transit ad campaign just makes more in Seattle than elsewhere because your transit system sucks.

Posted by Andrew Pendleton | June 30, 2008 1:17 PM

John @ 34 - Dude, that's the only thing that makes it bearable......

Posted by merry | June 30, 2008 1:37 PM

Norm Schram

Who is that then?

Flexcar also had a $500 deductible.

Posted by keshmeshi | June 30, 2008 1:56 PM

flex vs. zippy

no big deal, moved company use from one to the other - five minutes - no real difference - we grab Zippy/Flexxy to move legal docs.

do you all really spend time deciding where to buy used clothes with this much ardor?

I ride the bus to work, but for me, hourly car rentals are another business tool.

Posted by Kenneth | June 30, 2008 2:37 PM

No, you're right. That one might not be so bad you really can't take a dresser on the bus but one of their ads here in Portland says something along the lines of, "Finally, you can make weekend plans farther than three blocks from home." It's like other modes of transportation don't exist, and the carless are lifeless homebodies.
As someone who bikes/buses all over town, I'm a little offended by it, honestly.

Posted by MG | June 30, 2008 5:57 PM

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