When I turned 21, the one thing I was most excited about was being able to sign up for Zipcar. I realize that probably won’t win me any coolness awards, but I’m okay with that.
You may be thinking, “What the heck is Zipcar?” If so, you’re not alone. Only about 32,000 people visited zipcar.com in July. Zipcar is a car sharing service that started out in Cambridge and Boston, MA, and has since expanded into other cities like New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and Washington, DC. Unlike traditional car-rental services that have very limited pickup locations and generally only rent by the day or week, Zipcar is geared more towards urban dwellers like myself who don’t own cars; they need to rent a car for shorter periods of time, like per hour, and want more convenient pickup locations, like around the block. With Zipcar, you don’t really have to plan ahead – you just go on their website or call them up at any time of day, make your reservation with the nearest available car you want, and go unlock the car with a special card you’re given when you sign up. Gas, insurance, maintenance, and everything else that would come with owning a car are all included in the normal rental fee. They even have XM Radio in the cars now.
Where traditional car rental has mostly leveled off in terms of overall new customers, car sharing services like Zipcar (which is currently the largest of its kind in the US) are growing rapidly as they’ve carved quite a niche market out for themselves. Now you may be thinking, “aren’t you comparing apples and oranges?” You’d probably be right. Car rental and car sharing are two very different models; car sharing only works well in densely populated areas, and car rental is generally geared towards people who already own cars but are traveling or need a temporary replacement. You probably don’t see very much brand loyalty with car rental services, but you do with car sharing services (case in point: me). However, it’s still interesting to see the growth of a relatively new kind of business. In the past year, Zipcar’s website has seen a larger increase in visitors per month than the top-3 car rental sites.
I think it is pretty clear that with gas prices being as high as they are, urban populations rising, and people wanting to be more independent, car sharing services will continue to grow in popularity. You certainly won’t hear me complaining if this indeed happens.