generation of car share services, which allow drivers to pay as they go instead
of paying by the day, is now a viable option for both travellers in the US and
those in select countries around the world.
the largest of these pay-as-you-go services, Zipcar, popped into the media spotlight
when Avis, the
global rental car chain, bought the company in a deal valued at $500
million. The acquisition will likely fuel the spread and marketing of
Zipcar, and lead to expansion by its main rivals, Hertz On Demand and Car2go. In fact, Hertz plans to make tens of thousands
of its 375,000 vehicles in the US available for reserving on an hourly basis by
the middle of 2013, according to company spokesperson Paula Riveria.
these pay-as-you-go services were created with locals in mind, the industry’s
increasing presence in major US and European cities makes them an appealing
option for out-of-town visitors. Currently, Zipcar and Hertz On Demand members
in one country can book a vehicle in a foreign country using their electronically
coded membership cards. Car2go plans to add this functionality by June.
you can’t yet join on the spot while overseas. If you’re on holiday but not yet
a member of a car-share program in your home country or if your home country
doesn’t yet have the car share program, you would need a mailing address at
your destination to sign up for an application, plus the patience to wait to receive
the membership card in the mail.
travellers, the main appeal of a car share service is being able to find
vehicles scattered around a city at every hour of every day and night. It can
also add spontaneity and flexibility to your trip; if you decide to make an
impromptu day trip between, say, London and Stonehenge, you can just book a car
and go without needing to figure out how to get there by train or bus. Similarly,
if you want to quickly cross a city to see a part of town that isn’t easily
accessible by public transportation, you can book the nearest available car and
services allow travellers to reserve cars online or via an iPhone or Android
app, and immediately pick up or return a vehicle without being limited by the
office hours of a traditional car hire company, which may be closed for much of
Sunday or have only a handful of locations around a city. In a nice touch,
drivers age 21 to 24 don't pay additional fees to use Zipcar, On Demand or Car2go,
while most traditional rental companies charge younger drivers a premium. Premiums
also don’t rise if you are driving in a foreign country, though you should read
the rules on policies carefully.
drawback is that most car share services have very little availability at
airports. In a rare exception, one-way rentals through Hertz On Demand are offered
at all three major New York City airports, plus Baltimore Washington
International Airport and Regan International Airport in Washington DC. Car2go
has some vehicles at airports in Vienna and Hamburg.
catch is that car share programmes are not cut out for long journeys, because
the services are priced to attract short-term users, not weeklong
holiday-goers. After a certain threshold of about 24 hours of continuous use,
the bill accumulated at by-the-hour or by-the-minute rate typically exceeds the
cost of otherwise paying a flat daily rate on a traditional car rental.
services are all on par with each other on price. All of the companies charge flat rate pricing
— often as cheap as $8 an hour— which includes fuel, insurance, and roadside
assistance. If a car runs low on fuel during a drive, a user can pay for petrol
using a company credit card that is supplied with each car. Basic insurance
coverage varies in specifics, but policies typically cover a damage deductible
for common accidents of around $750 to $1,000.
for-profit car share services sometimes have government-run counterparts that
can also be used for short jaunts around town, such as Paris’s Autolib', the city’s vehicle-sharing
successor to its bicycle hire scheme Velib’.
But these city-specific fleets have yet to spread much beyond Paris, making global
programs like Zipcar, Hertz on Demand and Car2go better bets for globetrotting
cheat sheet comparing the companies.
767,000 members, this is world’s largest car-sharing service. It has vehicles available around the world, with 10,000 parked across
more than 500 locations, including 20 US cities, London and five other UK
cities, and major destinations in Canada, Spain and Austria. Users pay a yearly
membership fee that varies by location and a one-time application fee; rates
include fuel and insurance.
Hertz on Demand
Run by the global
rental chain Hertz, this service has cars available in Berlin, London, Paris, Madrid,
Sydney and the US (in Boston, Chicago, Denver, Miami, New York City, San
Antonio, San Francisco and Washington DC). It has 1,600 vehicles scattered over
more than 800 locations and serves 230,000 members, though about half of those
members and vehicles are in and around New York City. Unlike Zipcar, Hertz on
Demand doesn’t charge an annual membership fee; fuel costs are only complimentary
for the first 20 miles driven per day; the company allows one-way trips; and most
of its vehicles have been re-fitted with NeverLost SatNav devices that give turn-by-turn
directions. Members can earn points in the Hertz Gold loyalty program.
Zipcar and On Demand, which rent by the hour, Car2go rents cars by the minute. Like
On Demand but unlike Zipcar, Car2go permits one-way trips within the same metropolitan
area. Uniquely, the 250,000-member scheme doesn’t require vehicles to be
returned to designated parking spaces, and only uses a single model in its
fleet of 6,000 vehicles worldwide, namely, the ultra-compact Smart
fortwo, which some
drivers find to be utterly adorable and others consider to be inadequately sized.
(Zipcar and On Demand each have a broad range of vehicles.) The company, run by
German automaker Daimler, rents 1,750 vehicles across six US cities (Austin, San
Diego, Seattle, Washington DC, Miami and Portland, Oregon), six cities in
Germany (Berlin, Düsseldorf, Hamburg, Cologne, Stuttgart and Ulm, three in
Canada (Calgary, Toronto and Vancouver), plus Amsterdam, London and Vienna. Rates,
which include fuel and insurance, vary by country, plus there is a one-time
Sean O’Neill is the travel tech columnist for BBC Travel