NEW YORK (AP) — The ability to access a car quickly and give it back after a few hours is exploding in popularity among both college students and city dwellers.
Zipcar created the car-sharing concept in 2000. By the end of the decade car-sharing had caught the attention of the two largest U.S. car rental companies as Enterprise and Hertz started competing services. And this week, Avis, the nation's No. 3 car rental company, jumped into by offering nearly $500 million to buy Zipcar.
While car-sharing is a popular alternative for those who rely on public transit or live on walking-friendly college campuses, it's not feasible in less-populated areas. Traditional car rental companies still dominate at airports, catering to travelers that need a car while they're on business or visiting family away from home.
Here's a look at how Zipcar works, for whom it works best and what it can cost.
HOW IT WORKS
Zipcar says it caters to a younger, more tech-savvy customer who wants a simplified car-borrowing experience. Car-sharing is far quicker than a traditional rental, where you'll go to a counter and stand in line to wait for a car. And Zipcar has a fleet of small trucks that are also useful for local moves.
With Zipcar and its car-sharing brethren, customers leave a car in a city parking lot, garage or in an assigned parking space on a college campus. "Zipsters," as Zipcar calls its customers, then find the car with the name tag that matches their reservation. Viewing the make and model on the company's smartphone app allows for easier spotting.
The car is locked and unlocked with a membership "Zipcard." The keys are stashed under the dash.
Zipcars aren't often checked for cleanliness or gas in between renters (they ask that you keep a quarter-tank at all times.) That can be a downside compared with standard car rentals.
Zipcar customers fuel up using a gas card that's stored in each car. With a traditional rental, customers fill up as if it's their own car and are expected to return the car full or face a hefty per-gallon charge.