By Ginny Lee
Zipcar bills itself as a car-sharing enterprise. The company was founded in 1999 in Massachusetts, marketing itself to cool, urban hipsters looking to share rides rather than own cars.
Zipcars are certainly more prevalent in larger cities, but two can be found in Springfield in the parking lot between the St. Nicholas Hotel and the Amtrak station downtown. A silver Mazda 3 hatchback and a red Ford Focus hatchback sit in their very own parking spaces marked by green Zipcar signs.
There is no Zipcar agent, but the cars can be reserved online at zipcar.com. The application fee is $25 and annual fee is $50. Members can reserve cars by the hour or the day – $8.50/hr. and $69/day Monday through Thursday, and $9.50/hr. and $77/day Friday through Sunday. The reservation includes insurance, gas and 180 miles per day, with a 45 cent per extra mile charge. Members are expected to return the car with a quarter tank of gas (which is paid for using a Zipcar gas card, included with membership) and in good condition. All Zipcars have automatic transmissions.
The website explains how the rentals work. After applying for membership, you receive a “Zipcard” in the mail in three to seven days. This Zipcard opens the car, and ignition keys are located under the dashboard. A gas card is located above the visor, and gas is paid for by Zipcar, according to the website. “Wizards make it happen,” a millennial beams in the online tutorial. And of course there is a Zipcard app for your smart phone.
The company’s slogan is “Wheels when you want them,” and by reserving online, you avoid standing in line at a rental counter. To be eligible you have to be 21 years old and have had a valid driver’s license for a year with good driving history. Zipcar offers roadside assistance in the rental agreement, but smoking is not allowed in their cars.
Zipcar came to Springfield in 2011 as part of their Zipcar for Government contract with the State of Illinois, according to C.J. Himberg of Zipcar’s national office. The cars are intended for state employees traveling from Chicago or other parts of the state to the Capital City, as well as anyone else. Zipcars provide the state with cost-effective and sustainable transportation, Himberg said.
In Springfield the Zipcar seems handy for someone living downtown who doesn’t own a car or for visitors coming to town via Amtrak. However, if visitors need a car for more than a few hours, they may do better renting a vehicle from Enterprise Rent-a-Car, just two blocks further west on W. Jefferson. A compact car like a Mazda or Focus rents for $45/day with $100 deposit at Enterprise.
Ginny Lee is a regular contributor to the Springfield Business Journal as a writer and photographer.