NEWS

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September 6, 2006

Car subscription services

The idea of owning a car in Chicago is overwhelming, let alone the idea of owning one in a jam packed city like New York City or Boston. But suddenly the idea seems much more manageable if the car is a rental from a service you "subscribe" to. That seems to be the idea behind Zipcar and similar services. Here is the Washington Post's description:

No longer a curious fad, the services boast 530 shared cars in the Washington area, making them increasingly attractive to new kinds of customers, including universities and businesses.Within the past year, the area's two shared-car services, Zipcar and Flexcar, have both received $20 million in private investment that they plan to use to expand. Using their popularity among politicians and transportation policymakers, the firms are aggressively cutting deals with cities for parking and marketing promotions.The companies charge an annual membership rate of $35 to $50, plus hourly fees of $7.25 to $9 to rent a car, which includes gas and insurance. Cars are reserved online or through a toll-free number, and each member is given a keyless entry card to access the car. Part of the appeal is that both firms offer a range of vehicles -- from high-end BMWs to pickup trucks to Mini Coopers.
What really interests me about this idea is its positive externalities. For one, it keeps people out of a cities fixed number of parking spots which makes everyone's life easier. Also, the added effort required by users to take out one of these cars is likely to discourage an individual's otherwise excessive driving which means less traffic (though probably not at the busiest times of the day) and less pollution (though not much less pollution, a couple of quotes in the article oddly refer to the service as one that is for "greens" which doesn't make sense to me).Seems like a good idea to me. And one I might use if I ever end up in a city and need to get to places the public transportation doesn't do well.