by Carolyn Jacobson
What do our cars do 90% of the time? According to an International Parking Institute survey conducted in May 2012, they are parked. So we are making car payments, buying gas, and spending big bucks on insurance for vehicles that mostly sit. It is no wonder that some folks are reconsidering the need to own a car, or to keep the cars they own all to themselves. And making this shift possible are new forms of car-sharing.
There are four such companies in the neighborhood. Zipcar has been around the longest, and it’s been joined by Car2Go, RelayRides and most recently, Enterprise CarShare.
For all of these companies, the easiest way to sign up and reserve a car is online, and having a smartphone makes car-sharing even easier. Last year, walking out of a meeting at the Methodist Home, DDOT’s Jim Sebastian whipped out his phone to locate a Car2Go in the neighborhood to drive home. He found one a block away on Ellicott. Smartphones are also handy for taking photos of any damage to a car when you pick it up or that occurs while you are driving.
Speaking of damage, all these services come with insurance for drivers and in the case of RelayRides, for the cars’ owners, as well. Plus, you should check your own auto insurance policy, if you have one.
Read on for more details of these services.
|Cars in Forest Hills||6||variable||4||3|
|Application Fee||0 or $25 (depending on plan)||$38||No|
|Annual Fee||0-$60 (depending on plan)||No||No|
|Reservation||Yes||1/2 hr before use||Yes||Yes|
|Rental Rates Min/Hour/Day||From: NA/$8.25/$75||$.38/$13.99/$72.99||NA/$5*/$83 (midsize)||day/month/week, rate set by owner*|
|Damage Fees (Maximums)||$750||$1,000.00||$500.00||options: $500/$2500/all|
|Daily Miles w/o charge||180||200||Set by owner|
|Return to Pick-up Location||Yes||No, within DC city boundaries||Yes||Yes|
|Website Information||Fair (hard to find insurance info)||Very Good||Good||Good|
|* this is a reduced rate||*Relay Rides takes 25% cut|
Zipcar, the world’s leading car-sharing network, is a membership-based car-sharing company providing automobile reservations to its members, billable by the hour or day. It was founded in 2000 and in March 2013 Avis Budget Group purchased Zipcar for about $500 million. To make the case for car-sharing, Zipcar provides comparison of the costs of owning and renting.
To use a Zipcar, you apply for membership online. The company says that it will do a “quick driving record check” and assures potential members that “94% are approved in under 24 hours.” Members can reserve Zipcars online or by phone at any time, for a same-day rental or up to a year in advance. To find the location of available cars, you will need to enter an address or neighborhood. There is a choice of makes and models, including vans, and rental rates vary according to size and make. If you are not sure about the size you need, there is information about what each the car can accommodate.
Zipcar members get a Zipcard, which you order online and receive in the mail. It allows you to automatically unlock the door of the rented car with keys located inside. Zipcar also offers iPhone and Android apps that allow members to honk the horn to locate their Zipcar and unlock the doors. The car must be returned to its reserved parking location and is locked using the Zipcard. Within a few hours the details of the trip are available online.
Gas, parking, insurance, and maintenance are included in the price. You can join as an individual, as part of a company or as an affiliate of a university. There are a number of different plans.
Dan DeSimone, who lives in a condo in the neighborhood with his wife and three young children, has been using Zipcar for a number of years and is a very satisfied customer.
“My family and I are lucky to live within walking distance of a Metro station, and the bus stop is at our front door. But Zipcar is the option that makes it easy to manage a busy life without a personal vehicle. Within a ten-minute walk are at least a half dozen Zipcars; we’re never without a car when we want one. And, aside from this convenience, we especially appreciate that Zipcar relieves us of having to maintain a personal vehicle.”
Sarah Phelps, another Zipcar user who lives in the neighborhood says, ”I can’t afford to have a car in DC so Zipcar works out well for when I need to go to the store, run an errand, and sometimes even take a day trip that can’t be done using public transportation. Though the car across the street from me is almost always reserved, there are plenty of options nearby and the cars are really nice.”
These are the cute white and blue Smart Cars you see on the streets. Car2Go’s big advantage is that you can use the car one-way at the basic rate of 38 cents per minute. You can leave the car at any parking space within District boundaries except for National Park areas. This unique feature makes it the most flexible car-sharing service.
Like Zipcar, you register online and get an access card, which unlocks the car. You can find a car online or on the street by using their smartphone app or reserve one 30 minutes before you need it. There are no late fees and they have hundreds of cars in the area.
Gas is included, but if you end up driving farther than you expect, there is a pre-paid gas card in the holder in the car, above the touchscreen. You get 20 free minutes (worth $7.60) if you fill up the car if the tank is less than quarter full.
The Car2Go rental fee includes parking at any legal spot, including zoned parking (which is not included in the rental fee of the other car sharing companies), insurance, maintenance, cleaning, GPS navigation, 24/7 customer support, and roadside assistance. You only pay for the minutes you’re holding onto the car. Charges are billed directly to your credit card.
You can also make a “stop over.” That is, you can take time off from being in the car without having someone else rent it. You will, however, have to continue to pay for the time you have the car in your possession.
Sarah Phelps says she loves the flexibility of Car2Go.
“When I need to get somewhere on the weekend and they’re doing track work on the Red Line (as they almost always are) Car2Go makes it simple because I can locate and reserve an available car via the iPhone app, hop in the car and park it on the street at my destination and I’ll get there faster than if I’d tried to fight Metro. I can also use it for when I know I’ll need a car for less than an hour to run an errand. The cars also have GPS, which is great for people like me whose only sense of driving in the city is the bus routes.”
Enterprise is the “new kid on the block” in this market. It is very similar to Zipcar. You reserve the car you want, pick it up at a specific location found on the website, and must return to the same location. There are a number of locations in the area including Van Ness, Windom Place, and Howard Law School.
This company acts like a broker for individual car owners who want to rent out their cars on a daily, weekly, and/or monthly basis. A few are also willing to rent on an hourly basis. Owners determine their rates and choose the drivers to whom they will rent. RelayRides takes a 25% cut and takes responsibility for policing the drivers. Drivers will be fined for returning cars dirty or damaged and with unpaid tickets and tolls. Relay also supplies insurance for drivers and owners and 24-hour roadside assistance. Both drivers and owners rate each other on the site.
Drivers sign up online and RelayRides checks your driving history. When the application is accepted the driver can go to the site, choose a car and contact the owner to set up a time to meet and pick up the keys. These rental rates are a good deal cheaper than for Zipcar, Enterprise, and Car2Go. Both owners and drivers are rated on the site.
Finally, we thought we should mention…
Though not a car-sharing company, Uber is another new transportation option in DC. It started in San Francisco in 2009 and came to DC at the end of 2011. Uber makes a mobile application that connects passengers with drivers of vehicles for hire, using “digital dispatch.”
It has expanded from using limo drivers and their cars on off hours, to personal car owners, and currently includes partnering taxi cab companies. A consumer can choose between four services: UberX (personal car), Uber Black (black limo), Uber SUV, and Uber Taxi – each with different pricing.
Uber was not welcomed by everyone in DC. Taxi companies fought to keep Uber out. Following a social media campaign by Uber’s users, the DC Council voted in late 2012 to formally legalize this type of service, with no minimum fare, and Uber formed an alliance with a number of the taxi companies. (The law is “The Public Vehicle-for-Hire Innovation Act of 2012.”)
To use Uber, you need to be 18 years of age or older. Memberships are not application-based. You just set up the account either on Uber’s website or through their app and give them your credit card info. As long as your credit card works, you can ride. Uber will provide you with a personal account, accessible for you with a password of your choice. They will ask for your personal information, mobile telephone number and credit card data. Each Uber driver has an iPhone from Uber, which is how they locate you and calculate fares.
You can connect to Uber via mobile app, text message, or the web. Your driver will arrive curbside in just minutes. You can track the arrival of your ride, you’ll receive a text message when your driver arrives, the credit card on file is charged after your ride, and you will receive an e-mail receipt detailing your trip. No money changes hands with your driver, and tip is included in the fare.
An UberX driver must meet specific requirements and pass a background check. He/she must have a clean driving record, take a formal training course, pass another background check, and have car insurance. At that point he/she will get an Uber iPhone to get passengers. The car has to be no more than a certain age, and tends to be smaller or mid-sized, like the Toyota Camry Hybrid. Direct payment is made into the driver’s personal bank account through Uber. Uber charges the driver a fee for each ride.
Uber Taxi is an option that uses Uber to book and pay for a regular DC taxi. According to people I have spoken to who use this service regularly, Uber taxi drivers are much better than “the traditional” taxi drivers. Sarah Phelps is also a regular Uber user.
“Uber makes sure that the cabbies have to live up to their customer service standards, which helps a lot. Uber contracts with cab drivers in much the same way as they do with UberX drivers. One cab driver told me that he actually enjoys working with Uber because it makes him feel safer.”
An excellent article on the subject of car-sharing is How Will the Sharing Economy Change the Way Cities Function?