Last year my son, along with many classmates, stayed on their Massachusetts campus through the summer to get a start on senior thesis research. When Josh discovered he’d need to spend time at a lab at another university for a few weeks, I assumed he’d be stuck on buses and trains since he didn’t have a car.
The next I heard, his friend Carrie was using Zipcar, a car-sharing service, to drive him down to New Haven on Monday mornings (a round trip for her of about three hours) and then making the same trip on Friday afternoons to pick him up again.
Turns out she had been using Zipcar since freshman year. How did she get so smart?
Q: How did you find out about Zipcar, Carrie?
A: There are a few cars stored on campus [in Amherst, home of the University of Massachusetts and two liberal arts colleges], and one of my friends told me about it. We wanted to go shopping for dorm supplies but didn’t want to carry everything back on the bus.
Q: Is it easy to create an account? How does payment work?
A: It’s very easy! You make an account online and they mail you a Zipcard to unlock the cars. Students pay a yearly membership fee and then pay per hour to rent a car. Zipcar charges you once you make your reservation, but you have the option to cancel or change your reservation, given enough time.
The current yearly Zipcar membership fee for students is $15 with hourly rates as low as $7.50. Each rental covers up to 180 miles with gas and insurance included.
Q: What do you use Zipcar for?
A: Most often I use Zipcar for shopping trips, so I don’t have to carry bags back on the bus. I’ve also used Zipcar for trips to Northampton [a nearby town with more shopping], and to help Josh commute to New Haven. It’s great for taking people to the airport, and I know people who’ve used Zipcar to drive to job interviews.
Q: Do your friends use Zipcar and why do you prefer it to public transportation?
A: There are a good number of students on campus who use Zipcar. Most often, it’s underclassmen or other people who don’t have their own cars. I choose Zipcar when public transportation would take too long, or if I want to ferry a lot of things back with me.
Q: Do you have to reserve a car in advance? Is there always a Zipcar available?
A: You do need to reserve a car in advance, but it’s also possible to find one on short notice. Sometimes all the cars are reserved, but there’s another Zipcar location close by that has more cars.
Q: What if you need a car for more than just a few hours?
A: It is possible to reserve a car for a full day. You just have to return it to the same spot.
Q: Do you have to put gas in the car?
A: Yes, but you don’t have to pay for it! Inside each car is a gas card, and when you fill up the tank Zipcar pays. They do ask that when you return the car, there is at least a quarter of a tank left.
My conclusion, fellow parents:
Car sharing is affordable, green, and convenient for students, and definitely worth considering whether you have a current college student or one heading to campus for the first time in the fall. It’s also an excellent option for students who’ll be working or studying someplace other than their hometown this summer.