Why No One You Know is Driving his Own Car This Weekend
NEW YORK ( MainStreet)Rental cars have been a mainstay of American travel for the last century. Early rentals, within a few years of the Model T's appearance, cost 10 cents a mile. Considering inflation, today's average of about $60 a day isn't such a bad uptick for customers of the Big Eight: Alamo, Avis, Dollar, Enterprise, Fox, Hertz, National, or Thriftyall at a far-flung airport or strip-mall not-so-near-you.
But, the car rental industry has moved deep into many American cities, where car ownership is less of a necessity with multi-modal transit options. Plus, the hassle of parking restrictions, tickets, higher insurance premiums and minor dings also makes car ownership less desirable.
"I don't see car ownership being a lot more expensive, necessarily, in the city, than elsewhere," says Chris Brown, Executive Editor of Auto Rental News, "but, psychologically, there is a real movement to seek specific transportation forms for specific purposes in specific locations rather than the all-purpose car."
In this crowd-sourced economy, membership-based "car-sharing" options like the ubiquitous Zipcar, have combined the option of renting with the convenience of proximity, targeting urbanites with particular needslike moving that EXPEDIT bookshelf you just bought on Craigslist. "Share" sounds a little more, shall we say, crafty or conscientious than the corporate-sounding "rental." To clarify: you are renting a Zipcar for a feenot borrowing it or sharing it.
Nomenclature aside, Zipcar places its vehicles within spitting distance of the consumer's house or apartment at a designated parking spot or terminal (similar to bike share programs ), and governs the whole transaction with a web and app interface.
Zipcar started in Cambridge, Mass. in 2000, spread to Washington, D.C. in 2001, and New York in 2002. By decade's end, its cars could be found in a dozen other American cities (after mergers with Seattle-based Flexcar as well as London-based Streetcar) and doubled its membership rolls.
It also convinced some people that, perhaps, they really didn't need a car, after all.
Kate Thomas, who works in government relations for a national non-profit based in Washington, D.C., sold her car after moving to the city in 2005. But, after several years of bumming rides with friends or figuring out bus transfers to run errands, she joined Zipcar last year.
"I signed up just before I changed apartments a mile awayfor all the little errands related to a move," she said. "Now I Zipcar occasionally for big grocery runs."
The caveat? Demand regularly outstrips supply. "Zipcar meets my car-sharing needs, but it does require some advanced preparation because reservations can fill up easily, especially during peak times like weekend days," she said.