Hitching a ride

Senior Keith Raine wanted to pick his girlfriend up from the airport when she returned after a weekend away. While he could have called a cab, taken public transportation or bummed a ride from a buddy, Raine wanted to ride in style.

Regardless of the District of Columbia’s convenient Metro, bus and taxi systems, life sometimes calls for a car, Raine said. That is where Zipcar comes in.

Raine had read about Zipcar in a magazine and decided to check it out. After registering with the service, he reserved an Astro and went to pick it up at the Ritz-Carlton on 23rd Street. The car was clean and ready to hit the road. So was Raine.

“I mean, it’s so easy,” Raine said. “And it’s a lot cheaper than renting from a traditional car company.”

The concept of Zipcar is on-demand car sharing, available to Zipcar members starting at $8.50 per hour and $59 per day, which includes insurance, gas and parking.

“It’s a good idea for the occasional driver because you don’t have to worry about insurance, gas or parking,” Raine said. “And, you can try out different kinds of cars.”

What about the student who craves the beach and Baltimore crab cakes or wants to impress a hot date with a night out on the town? There is a Zipcar for that.

Zipcars are parked in designated spots on and around campus, available to students by the day or by the hour. There are eight Zipcars that are parked near GW’s campus and over 110 more in the District. Each is affectionately named. Merlin the MINI, for example, lives a few blocks away from Bianca the BMW 325, Eden the Escape and Thurgood the Tacoma Pickup.

According to Gabe Klein, regional vice president of Zipcar, GW students have a tendency to reserve nicer cars.

“If you own a car, you’re stuck with that car,” Klein said. “The nice thing about Zipcar is you have all those options.”

Senior Nevin Singh used his Zipcar to drive to Costco.

“I wanted to go places I couldn’t get to by Metro,” Singh said. “I wanted to get a nice one, so I got a MINI Cooper.” Singh said he had no pressing reason to go to Costco; he just wanted to do something exciting and different.

“I like driving,” Singh said. “And I had a lot of fun using it.”

After registering on the Zipcar Web site, students receive a Zipcard, a proximity card with a microchip. After reserving a car of their choice online or by telephone, students wave the Zipcard in front of a reader on the car. The car receives the signal, the door unlocks and the reservation begins.

Perks? There is no additional fee for being under 25 years old like with most car rental agencies.

Despite the seemingly hassle-free process to get behind the wheel, some students are skeptical.

“It’s easier to find a friend with a car or to take a cab,” senior Amy Marks said. “It’s more convenient to pay for a cab than the inconvenience of navigating my way around a city I’m not familiar with.”

In 2000, two entrepreneurs from Cambridge, Mass. introduced the first Zipcars to the Boston area. In 2003, Zipcar partnered with GW and now has about 500 members, including students, faculty and staff. Because of this partnership, GW students pay a $20 membership fee, versus the regular $50 fee.

The District is the third most congested metropolitan area in the United States, Klein said. Zipcar boasts that for every car they put on the road, they remove nearly 20 cars from the District’s already clogged streets.

“Green benefits are a big part of this business,” Klein said, referring to the company’s commitment to improving urban life. “The idea emulates car ownership. You find you only use a car when you need it.”

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