August 28, 2008

I wish them luck with this.

Car sharing. Two words that still sound a little foreign when used together in Texas.

Yet on Tuesday, a Massachusetts firm called Zipcar made its debut in the state with a car-sharing service at Rice University.

The service is similar to a traditional car rental business but is underpinned by a broader mission: to get Americans to change the way they think about owning and driving cars.

"We envision a world where there are more car sharers than car owners," Zipcar spokeswoman Kristina Kennedy said as she stood in front of a sign-up table on the Rice campus.

The service works like this: Rice students pay $35 for a yearlong membership, which allows them to reserve a car at $7 an hour or $60 a day.

At the reserved time, a swipe of a membership card across a sensor on the windshield unlocks the door. Keys are inside. Insurance is paid for, and members can buy gasoline at no cost using a charge card inside the car. But drivers pay a penalty if they return the car with less than a quarter tank.

Formed in Cambridge, Mass., eight years ago, Zipcar has had success with the service in metro areas including Chicago, Washington, Boston and San Francisco.

After dropping its minimum renting age from 21 to 18 last year, Zipcar is moving aggressively to contract with college campuses.

If you're going to try something like this in Houston, which doesn't have the same transit infrastructure as those other cities right now, aiming for a campus like Rice makes a lot of sense. Most students on campus there don't need a car most of the time, and some of those who are currently paying however much for the limited parking that's available could probably be persuaded to leave the car at home and try this instead. Don't know how big the market will be beyond that in the near term, but it's worth a try on that scale to see what's possible.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on August 28, 2008 to Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

These work really, really well in Boston. And driving in Boston, believe it or not, is much worse than driving in Houston (it can take 20 minutes to go 3 miles in non-rush hour in Boston, b/c there are so many lights, pedestrians, and buses on the road).

Zipcars are great to use when you just need to go get groceries, make a run to somewhere like a Target or Ikea to get supplies, or if you're going out on a date. While I "share" my girlfriend's car up here in school, a lot of folks use Zipcars up here.

Exciting to see it in Houston. It's a great progrsm.

Posted by: Phillip Martin on August 28, 2008 4:29 PM

I am a Zipcar member here in New York, and I LOVE it. And I recently told a mutual friend of ours (who does transportation advocacy in Houston) who was considering not replacing her older car when it died - therefore leaving herself and her husband as a one car family - that it would work far better if Houston had Zipcar. Now she can consider the option. :)


Posted by: Amy on August 28, 2008 4:31 PM
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