Zipcar rolls out pay-as-you go car sharing

Julie Dinisio and Fletcher Babb
Contributing Writer and News Editor
Imagine a car rental service offering cars for students who have long been barred from rentals until age 25. Imagine this company boasted modest rates, flexible pick up times and shiny new cars.
On August 16, VCU welcomed Zipcar, a car-sharing company which currently operates in about 15 major cities and on a smaller scale, about 150 college campuses. Zipcar markets itself as an ideal alternative to car rental in that it offers a unique pay-as-you-go service. Members receive a Zipcard which allows them access to the cars they reserve. Reservations can be made online or by phone on a last-minute basis, but advance notice is recommended.
As always, it helps to read the fine print.
The costs vary by car, but generally hover around $8 per hour and $66 per day. On weekends, the daily rate climbs to $72. This includes gas, insurance and up to 180 miles of driving. Each extra mile driven costs .45 cents. The company requires, under a $20 penalty, that renters leave the car with at least a quarter tank of gas, which is charged to a fuel card found inside the car. Additionally, there is a nonrefundable $25 application fee and a $50 annual membership fee, regardless of how often the service is used.
Zipcar is strict about late fees: $50 per hour, whether your are 5 or 45 minutes late and even if nobody else is waiting for the car. The insurance carries a $500 deductible, which does not cover “blameless” incidents, like vandalism or a smashed-in window.
Four Zipcars are currently on the VCU campus. Two are located by the MCV Barnes & Noble; the others outside Cabell Library on Floyd Avenue. They can be used for as long as needed but must be returned to their reserved parking spaces.
Zipcar.com also encourages participation in their “Low-Car Diet.” Beginning on September 14, participants are asked to give up use of their cars for one month and “find out what the Zipcar way of life is all about.” Followers of the program will have their application fees waived.
Miriam Maddux, VCU Ombudsman and Transit Coordinator, said that Zipcars are a “product that will integrate well with the other commuter programs; they keep students from bringing their cars to campus and decrease pollution and the number of parking decks that need to be built.”
Zipcar website echoes Maddux’s sustainability argument, stating that every Zipcar in use removes 15-20 personal vehicles from the road. Many of the car models are eco-friendly.
There currently isn’t a Zipcar office on VCU’s campus, so registration takes place online or by phone. Any questions can be answered by the Parking and Transportation Program. Almost 100 people have already signed up for the VCU Zipcar program, and more of these “Zipsters” are expected as the semester progresses.
Zipcar will add cars to the VCU campus as needed, but has immediate plans to expand to other Richmond-area universities. However, The University of Richmond boasts 50 green or yellow bicycles on campus. The service, which cuts foot and car traffic by allowing students the option to bike, is completely free.

Julie Dinisio

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