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NY Times Zipcar article
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Date: Monday, 24 June 2002, at 7:04 p.m.
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New York Times March 1, 2002, Friday
May I Borrow the Car? New Service Says Yes
By AARON DONOVAN (NYT) 1102 words
THEY are still a novelty. One could sit all day at a busy intersection and not see one pass. But cars bearing a certain round Z logo may become as familiar to New Yorkers as the pushcart hot dog vendor, if Zipcar.com lives up to its ambitions.
In the 18 months since it began in Boston, Zipcar has gained 1,700 customers there for an automated hourly rental service that it hopes will revolutionize the way city residents run errands and get away on weekends. It began operating in Washington in October, and now has 300 customers there. Last month, it arrived in New York with a fleet of 10 compact Volkswagens.
Zipcar has created a system that is part traditional car rental and part environmentally friendly car-sharing network. Customers reserve cars, which are often kept in garages within walking distance, for use at specific times. ''If you need a car quickly, you just log on to your computer and you go,'' said Jennifer McCartney, a 31-year-old corporate recruiter who lives on the Upper East Side, who said she had saved money by driving a Zipcar to a warehouse sale in the Bronx instead of taking a taxi.
Car sharing is not a new concept. Companies have run similar services in Europe for at least 15 years. Flexcar.com, which established a program in Seattle in 1999, has expanded to Washington, D.C., and Portland, Ore. Carsharing.net lists 35 North American cities with programs, most sponsored by nonprofit groups.
But Zipcar may be the first company to try to make a profit with a car-sharing service in the nation's largest, densest city. ''New York City is a phenomenal market for this service,'' said Robin M. Chase, Zipcar's chief executive, adding that New York has the highest percentage of people who do not own cars of any large American city. ''What we know about our users is that they don't need a car to get to work,'' she said. ''All those people who don't own a car would like to have access to one every once in a while.''
To join Zipcar, one pays $105 in fees and a $300 deposit. The rules are: return the car on time to the garage where you got it; keep the car clean; fill it with gas -- Zipcar pays -- when the tank is three-quarters empty.
The company gives customers a magnetic card that is recognized by sensors behind the windshields. When a customer wants to use a car, he or she makes a reservation online or over the phone as little as two minutes in advance. Zipcar then electronically enables the reserved car to recognize the customer. He or she goes to the garage and holds the card up to the sensor to unlock the car and activate the ignition.
Zipcar customers say they like using the service because there is no need to wait in line. ''It takes you under one minute from the time you log on to the time you log off and you don't have to deal with anyone,'' said Tali Gillette, a 33-year-old film student who began using the service last month.
Ms. McCartney said Zipcar gave her freedom to travel when it was convenient. ''I used to save a bunch of errands for renting a car for the weekend,'' she said. ''With this, I can do one-off errands as needed.''
Once the customer starts driving, the car transmits information on the distance traveled and the amount of time used to Zipcar, which creates a billing record for the trip. Fees vary depending on where the car is kept. From 6 a.m. to midnight, cars in Boston and Washington cost $5 to $9 an hour. Those in New York, where Zipcar pays more for garage spaces, range from $10 to $14 an hour. In addition, a customer pays a flat rate of 40 cents a mile. From midnight to 6 a.m., the hourly fee is waived.
Daily rates are $65 to $95, plus 18 cents a mile after the first 125 miles, which are free.
Zipcar is breaking even in Boston, Ms. Chase said, though still losing money in Washington. ''We've only got 20 cars there,'' she said. ''We need to get up to 70.'' Zipcar now has 100 New York customers; it hopes to have 200 cars in the city by year-end.
Ms. Chase envisions a cityscape where there is a Zipcar on every block and a world where travelers take their Zipcar pass and use it in the cities they visit. ''The bigger we are, the better it serves the customers,'' she said.
Ms. Chase said she expected Zipcar to change people's driving habits in ways that would reduce traffic and pollution, estimating that each Zipcar took 8 to 10 cars off the road. A company survey indicated that 15 percent of customers sold their cars when they started using Zipcar, and 40 percent of those who signed up said they subsequently abandoned plans to buy a car.
One couple who sold their car are Penny and Ed Cherubino, who live in the Back Bay of Boston. After studying how much they spent on maintenance, gas and parking, and realizing that they could earn $350 a month by renting out their condominium parking space, they determined that they could save $10,000 a year by selling their 1985 Saab 900. ''It didn't make any sense for us to have a car anymore,'' Mrs. Cherubino said.
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