Zipcar makes transportation easier for students, faculty looking for part-time car commitment

It’s time. The fridge is empty, the cabinets are bare and eating out just isn’t an option. Plus, your prescription at the pharmacy is ready for pickup, you need to stop at the mall for a new outfit and you’re out of computer ink. The task of running all these errands is looming, but there remains one problem: no transportation.

For many college students, having a car on campus is a privilege reserved for their years as upperclassmen, or a privilege denied completely. Thanks to Zipcar, a car sharing network that came to the University in 2009, car accessibility is no longer an issue.

“I saw the cars around campus and was curious how I could start utilizing them,” said Emily Hartl, junior in LAS. “It’s so much more convenient than any other mode of transport on campus. I hate taking buses for long distances. It’s not convenient to ask people for rides all the time if I have to go somewhere that’s off campus, but the cars are a piece of cake.”

Zipcar was founded in 2000, and started its University program in 2002. It began at MIT and Harvard, and now is available on more than 250 campuses, said CJ Himberg, communications and social media coordinator for Zipcar.

Currently, there are 10 Zipcars parked at seven locations throughout Champaign-Urbana as well as on campus, Himberg said.

Members can reserve a car online or over the phone. There is also a Zipcar mobile application which allows members to make reservations, lock and unlock the cars, and even honk the horn. There is also a “Reserve a Zipcar” app on Facebook for making reservations.

“It’s pretty simple to reserve a car. I use the app on my iTouch,” Hartl said.

When reserving a car, members sign into their account, which allows Zipcar to know their location. When they enter their desired time slot, Zipcar will tell the customers where the closest available car is and how many cars are available for that time slot. If none are open, it tells customers when they are next available.

Cars can be reserved as early as a year in advance and as late as minutes in advance. Because Zipcar is popular on campus, Hartl recommends reserving a car as far in advance as possible, but has also been able to reserve them last minute.

Champaign-Urbana has several car models, including Honda Civics and Ford Focus’, which are both sedan and hatchback, as well as Toyota Prius hybrid models, said Colleen McCormick, public relations manager for Zipcar.

“They seat about five people,” Hartl said. “They’re all nice cars. I was actually really impressed the first time I used it. All the ones I’ve driven are hybrids. They’ve got good size trunks. I’ve actually used a Zipcar to move from a dorm to an apartment before.”

The cars also have features such as a CD player, various radio settings and an iPod jack, Hartl said. In addition to air and heat, some have controls to change the temperature on each side of the car, and the display behind the steering wheel tells information such as how many miles until empty.

Gas and insurance are included in the fees that members pay to rent a car. When gas falls below a fourth of a tank, members are asked to use the provided gas card to fill it back up, Hartl said.

There are six rules members are asked to follow, Himberg said.

“These include things like always walk around to check the car for damage before a reservation, always return the car on time and leave the car in a clean condition,” Himberg said. “(We also ask members) not to smoke in Zipcars, all pets must be in carriers at all times in a Zipcar, and we ask that you always return the car with at least one-fourth of gas for the next member.”

To register, students and faculty can go online and fill out a form in which they provide driver’s license information as well as credit card information. Once signed up, members receive a Zipcard, which acts as the key to the car.

Members are charged an annual fee of $25. Then, when renting a car, there is an hourly fee of $7.50, or cars can be rented for $66 a day.

Cars can be rented for as little as an hour or up to four days at a time. One hundred and eighty miles a day are included in the reservation; however, mileage above this is charged at $0.45 per mile.

“Whether you use it every single week or you use it once a semester, I think it still comes out to be worth the money,” Hartl said.

Students and faculty interested in learning more about Zipcar can visit www.zipcar.com.

“I highly recommend it,” Hartl said. “I think it’s really useful for college students, and we’re really lucky to have a handful of cars at U of I. Anyone who’s thinking of getting it, I would recommend it highly enough.”

_Julia can be reached at [email protected]_