"They care about the environment. They want to take cars off the road. They’ve created a trusting community to share assets that previous generations insisted on owning. This is all a very European notion,"
Sure this is a very European notion. Come have a look at our roads and landscape and streets to see for yourself rollseyes. Then again, I guess you can't expect a marketing professor to understand concepts like 'observer bias' or 'sample size'.
Some of zipcar's policies make me feel that they are just using the word community to lower their operational costs rather than actually believing in it. Eg
a) If the person ahead of you is late, zipcar will not automatically give you an extension for the time lost because you got the car late. They will if you call them, but not by default.
b) They charge a late fee because the person next in line is being inconvenienced. How about splitting the late fee with the person being inconvenienced?
c) If you have a zipcar plan where you prepay then getting money out when you cancel the service used to be problematic as of 2 years ago.
After the fatal accident of that Googler's car in a car-sharing arrangement, I would assume that any 'real' ride-sharing is significantly reduced. There's just too much personal liability compared to AirBnB type of sharing.
A car is a complex piece of machinery. You keep everything on your car running absolutely perfectly? Well, it's great if you can afford that. Probably you're not in the target demographic.
Most people who share their own rides assume it's at least going to break even, if not much more. But if there's an accident, how easy is it for the driver to just claim it was the car? They can ditch the fault if the car itself was faulty. There's just too much incentive for a stranger to take advantage and cost you a lot of money.
The premise of ride sharing is the willingness to put yourself at someone else's mercy. It's a basic foundation of trust between two non-familiar people that doesn't exist in our culture.
OK, so take the human component out of it. What's left is a for-profit corporation handing cars out for cheap. No one should be surprised when people take them up on the offer out of economic benefit! They are able to provide cars for cheap, if they are in your area, and you want a cheap char, why wouldn't you use them?
I think they should fully accept your fate, and pivot into the worlds absolute BEST rental car company. Just maximize utilization! They've built all the infrastructure they need, they could kill it in this space like UBER is killing it in valet.
It's a basic foundation of trust between two non-familiar people that doesn't exist in our culture.
What? Trust is the very bedrock of civilization. You trust people in little ways every second of everyday. You trust the mailman isn't reading your mail, you trust the coffee at the diner isn't contaminated, you trust the health inspector that inspected that diner, and so on.
Trust that people won't commit felonies is one thing. But businesses don't win over customers that way.
All business is about establishing trust. But standard practice in business is never to expose yourself to undue risk. The business side of ride sharing just doesn't compute, because the benefits don't outweigh the risks of letting someone else drive your car in exchange for money.
Businesses carry insurance, and they operate under a completely different tort of liability. A well operated business will never risk sending employees to jail because a car they rented crashed. They may be fined, but you would need to prove willful negligence to get a criminal charge.
On the other hand, lending your car out as a individual exposes you to massive civil and potentially criminal liability. You don't have to literally booby-trap your car to be charged, you could be charged merely for a component failing at the wrong moment (hindsight is 20/20, and juries are people).
That's essentially what Zipcar is. It's a pay by the hour car rental service with a good interface. They call it "sharing" just to get around a lot of legal and cultural baggage associated with rental.
Dedicated, preplanned rental can be done much more cheaply from conventional car-rental places. If you're on a business trip your business probably has a deal in place with one of the big companies, and you probably want to just have a car for the whole trip and not worry about it - especially since you're going to be expensing it anyway, and neither you or the expenses department wants the trouble of figuring out exactly how many hours of car rental is reasonable. Zipcar's great advantage is for unplanned, one-or-two-hour rentals (often because you need to transport something bulky, which a business would have specialist ways of doing), which is far more common for private individuals than businesspeople.
I used it infrequently as a consultant; my company actually introduced me to the service -- but we used it to supplement traditional rentals, not replace them. Got to run out to play pet engineer for a scoping meeting? Grab a zipcar. Stuck in the ass end of the midwest for a two week engagement? Traditional rental.
I don't think they are leaving it on the table, I think their schedule of fees means they are carving out a spot that the rental companies totally ignored.
Actually, here in Belgium my carsharing service (Cambio) tries very hard to aim at businesses too, although more for traffic between work and home/station than business trips. Since most private use is in the evening or at the weekend, this is an obvious way for them to crank up usage per car.
What are people's thoughts on switching from car ownership to using Zipcar if you're living in a city like SF and need the car maybe once-twice a week for grocery shopping or occasional drive to South Bay? Does it pay for itself?
I don't know how good the service is in SF, but generally I can recommend it strongly for this use case. My parents did that around 2000 for 3 or 4 years (in Germany, in a bigger city). We rented a car once a week for grocery shopping and sometimes for a family trip (we even did a 2-week holiday trip with a rented car).
With this usage we definitely saved money. And a lot of time, because you don't have to care about repairing the car, taxes, ...
My father got a new job, moved to a small city without a car sharing service and bought a mercedes. He probably wouldn't "downgrade", but he is constantly annoyed because he has to care about all the small details (changing tires in the winter, refilling oil, then often small things like light bulbs break, ...).
From personal (European) experience, I can also recommend it. If moderately used, it's dirt cheap compared to owning a car. I spend about as much on it as just renting a garage would cost me in Brussels.
I was not a heavy car user even when I had a company car, but I do notice that I try to organize things even better so as to e.g. minimize shopping trips (do one trip for the big stuff every x weeks, use public transport or bike for the rest). And that's what the article completely misses: the system encourages behaviour that ultimately benefits the community, regardless of the individual user's noble or less noble intentions. (For the record, I certainly don't see car sharing as a temporary solution before getting my own car.)
Honestly, their findings are what I would have assumed in the first place. It makes more sense to me that people would use Zipcar because it's more convenient than buying your own car and paying insurance on it. The social and environmental factors seem to me more like an "oh by the way", rather than primary motivators.
The researchers deserve a lot of derision, here. It's not like people decide to rent a car by the hour to save the whales. The only intangible benefit in my mind when renting a zipcar is the knowledge that I won't have to direct one of Seattle's horrible cabbies around my neighborhood or pay a ridiculous amount of maintenance and insurance for the possibility that I might want to pick up groceries this month.
I didn't even know they had a messageboard. I just found a coat in the trunk of the mini cooper I just rented. I had the strong urge to just throw it away because it was taking up space I was using for groceries.
Instead I left it in the car, in case its old owners came looking for it. I didn't want to get charged for leaving trash though...