Friday, April 20, 2012

Zipcar: some pros, some cons, but very different

Picked up my Zipcar for the first time today and had a surprising experience in many ways.  First, it was not easy to get an account set up because their website wanted two years worth of driving experience records and my California driver's license only goes back to this summer.  Since I did not know my New Hampshire driver's license number (they make you turn it in when you switch states) I just left that part blank and figured it would go through.

Nope.  Got an email the next day asking for a previous driver's license number.  If I were dueling zipcar this would be Point Zipcar.  Fortunately my wife Nancy was willing to give it an effort and called up New Hampshire.  Having lived there for 5 years we got pretty good at anticipating the quirky way things go there (some might say backwards way, but after 5 years it strangely starts to all make sense).  She called up our previously local DMV (only 70 miles from where we lived!  and people considered our area "urban") and got the driver's license number pretty easily after I popped on the phone to say that I was me.  Point Nancy!

Well it can't be that simple can it?  While filing taxes we took my driver's license out of my wallet to see when we had become residents according to the DMV.  You know what happened next.  It was lost.  I blame 1-year-old Gabby, whose light fingers have gotten us into trouble before.

Well to get to an appointment today I needed a rental car, and without a driver's license it is not possible to rent from a traditional rental place (even with a temporary driver's license, if it is from New Hampshire they will still likely turn you down because they look incredibly fake, rather than officially temporary like a regular piece of paper.. but that is a different way-too-long story).  The prices for local Enterprise compact/economy cars are great, near $25/day, but without a license that is not an option.

Enter Zipcar.  With my newly activated ZipCard I reserved a car.  Only one was available, and I could not figure out how to get their website to show me more options.  Very strange.  Regardless, it was only 5 miles away (note to Zipcar, you need to become sufficiently ubiquitous that you are always walking distance from home - this is why you have so much success on university campuses of course).

I got the above prius, named Pygmalion, but without the cartoon backdrop unfortunately.  Got off without a hitch, though for some reason I figured the card scanner was close to the door lock, rather than the windshield, and that direction of the card wouldn't matter (which was proximity based) but it seemed to.  No points for picking it up a 1/2 hour late, I got charged for that, oh well.

Drove to my appointment in a somewhat abusive manner - the Prius has plenty of power to make you feel unencumbered, especially when the gas is free (Point Zipcar) and your foot is heavy.  The only strange things were that if you push hard on the brake, as I sometimes do when I stretch, it deactivates all acceleration (probably something to do with that Toyota accident and subsequent recall?).  Also it is slow to takeoff from a stop unless you give it a lot of gas, but I think that is just the programming hybridness of the car trying to force you to be efficient.  It seems to me that you could apply just the electric motor for the first 10 mph and use very little energy even when accelerating - I think the Prius programmers were trying to train my psyche to slow down.  The car would beep at me whenever I parked and left the vehicle, perhaps something to do with the key being left in the car, which you must do in zipcar.  That was a little unnerving but whatever.

I arrived back at the zipcar parking spot 13 minutes late.  In the city being within 13 minutes of anything is a victory in my opinion, but not, apparently, in zipcar's.  This led me to 1) be looked at in a suspect manner by the next zipcar user who waited patiently for me to get out and looked even more unnerved by the strange beeping 2) be charged for an extra hour of rental.  That seems a bit too much, and scheduling things down to the second seems  a bit excessive as well.  Point Zipcar?

In the end Zipcar has all the points, some gained by its nice features (e.g. ease of renting with a lost license) and some gained as an adversary against whom you have no recourse.  I get 1 point because I married a wonderful wife that knows how to jump through hoops and help me through them.

In the end the Zipcar was more expensive to rent for 3 hours and 13 minutes than a 1-day Enterprise rental, but for these short durations the differences are only a few bucks (taking free gas into account) and convenience trumps.  This means Zipcar wins the competition, unless I happen to be the zipper dropping off the car right before you, in which case you will have some moments of nervousness wondering when you will see the car :-)

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