As public transportation continues to become more disgusting, and as the costs of owning a vehicle grow, car sharing programs continue to become a more viable option for residents of NYC and of other large cities.
Now you might be saying, "car sharing? That sounds like some socialist transportation concept straight from the days of the USSR. But no! It's not. I promise.
Programs such as Zipcar, Hertz 24/7, Enterprise On Demand (formerly known as Mint) all fall into the car sharing category. Car sharing is when you have a membership to a program that allows you to take vehicles out when necessary, at a small cost. It isn't necessarily renting, but it also isn't owning a car. You don't usually have to deal with a rental agent (thank god), almost everything is automated, and costs are low.
Most car sharing programs I'm familiar with allow free gas for each day of rental, as long as you stay under the maximum amount of miles. Insurance (liability+deductible) is included
Every car sharing program is different in someway, but the process usually goes something like this.
Step one: Request membership over a website or a semi-automated kiosk. Provide driver's license information and billing information.
Step two: Receive membership card via mail or in person pickup. This card is what will allow you to pick up the cars.
Step three: Book vehicle by phone, mobile app, or website. You will receive an email confirmation with the exact pickup information and a phone number to call ahead. It is highly recommended to call the pickup location ahead so that they can dig the car out and get it ready for you in time.
Step four: Pick up reserved vehicle at the pickup location. Pickup locations are most commonly private parking lots. Do not get to the pickup location more than 15 minutes before your reservation time, you will not be allowed inside the vehicle. About 15 minutes before your reserved time, you should receive another text or email confirmation that displays more information about the vehicle. Information such as the color and plate number. When at the pickup location, tell the attendant what car you're there for and what program you're picking it up through.
Step five: After the parking attendant nearly runs you over with the vehicle, approach the vehicle and take a few minutes to inspect it for damage. To open the vehicle, you must check in using your member card. The check in sensor on the vehicle is usually in the front left area of the windshield. Hold your card to this area and the vehicle will unlock.
Step six: Enter the vehicle and check the interior for any major damage or missing parts. Check that the fuel card and the vehicle documentation are actually in the car. If there is any damage or anything is missing, be sure to call up the car sharing program that you are using and notify them.
After the damage and documentation check, you should be ready to set off in your reserved vehicle!
Like I said, each car sharing program is different. They all have their pros and cons.
Pros- Easy to book, wide selection of cars, no membership fee, many convenient pickup locations, one way rentals.
Cons- Poor customer service, poor vehicle maintenance, expensive rates for "performance and luxury" vehicles, toll surcharge, one way reservations are only available for airport trips.
Pros- Well kept fleet, only three different rate levels.
Cons- Limited selection of cars, membership fees, less pickup locations than competitors.
Pros- Well kept fleet, decent selection of vehicles, many convenient pickup locations, vehicles have cute names, no added EZPass usage fee, year round discounts and specials, Zipcar has pickup locations at many colleges and universities.
Cons- Pricey membership fees in addition to hourly rates.
Now, I'd also like to touch on a different kind of car sharing. A more upscale form of car sharing. A car sharing program that is more of a club than a program. A club that was once referred to as "Zipcar on steroids". Yeah, I'm talking about the Classic Car Club of Manhattan.
Pros- Cars are always cleaned and are inspected for any mechanical issues, members are able to actually socialize and share their love for cars, CCC utilizes a unique membership and point system, wide array of pure drivers cars, exotics, classics, and cars just to get from point A to point B, also a social club with 24/7 club/bar access.
Cons- What con's? But really. Two pickup locations in NYC, but deliveries are offered, only half a tank of fuel is included for each booking (also a pro).
I won't go too deep into this, but for those unfamiliar with the Classic Car Club of Manhattan, the Classic Car Club of Manhattan is a private members club located in the Soho area of Manhattan. It is both a social club and a driving club. Basically, you "join the club, drive the cars". CCC offers a constantly changing fleet of about 40 vehicles, and as a member, you have access to these vehicles, and more.
For the average New Yorker, Hertz 24/7 would most likely be the most reasonable choice of car sharing programs. In my experience with Hertz and the other car sharing programs, Hertz has enough vehicle pickup locations to satisfy the average car sharer and has a simple enough system to not confuse the average New Yorker. Though the customer service may be sometimes inadequate and the cars may occasionally be dirty or slightly damaged, it's worth it for the price you are paying per hour for a vehicle. Hertz 24/7 has no membership fee and has some sweet rates, my favorite being the $7/hour Fiat 500. Why spend $40 on two taxi rides when you can get take a car for $7?
My one majorly negative experience with Hertz 24/7 is when I reserved a VW Jetta. I went to the pickup location, a parking garage 5 blocks from my home. I told the lot attendant I was there for that car and he would not give it to me. He claimed that Hertz didn't pay their bills at the lot and that the car could not be released unless the bills were paid. I couldn't even bribe the guy to let me take the car. I called up Hertz and spoke to them about the situation, they offered to book me another car at a different location for the same rate, and refund any transportation costs that I wanted refund (with receipt, up to $50). Not too bad, but this shouldn't have happened in the first place.
Even after all this, the one thing that upsets me about Hertz 24/7 is that I whenever I'm in a Hertz 24/7 vehicle, I feel like it's just a leftover from the normal Hertz rental fleet. The cars are rarely, if ever, new. That is not a feeling I get with Zipcar or Enterprise Car Share.
If you want a little more from a "car sharing" program, I would highly recommend the Classic Car Club. It's run by car people, for car people.
Are car sharing programs right for you?
Possibly. If you don't have to rely on a car everyday, if you don't want to deal with a car everyday, or if you just want to have the option to take a car and escape from the metropolis that is New York, car sharing might be for you.
Note (disclosure): I should probably be honest. I am an intern at the Classic Car Club of Manhattan, so I may be slightly biased. But I seriously believe that if you can dig up the funds, it is the ultimate choice for car ownership in NYC. Yes, I just said that the ultimate choice for car ownership in NYC, is to not own a car. And no, they did not pay me to do this or ask me to write this.
If you have any interesting car sharing experiences, please leave them in the comments section!
Image credits: Leeds City Council, Hertz, Mario Tama, Zandy Mangold, CCC