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What's with Zipcar? 59

MrMrBen asks: "I've been seeing ads for Zipcar on the subway in NY. I didn't realize that it's actually out there and working. Apparently, you make a reservation on their web site, show up at the car, wave your membership card over the windshield and it unlocks for you. Does anyone know what kind of wireless network they use? Can they track the car while you're driving it? Have people been using zipcars, and what have their impression been? Is this the future of cars for city dwellers?"
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What's with Zipcar?

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  • by dietz ( 553239 ) on Sunday October 13, 2002 @04:57AM (#4440042)
    flexcar [] does the same thing in different markets than zipcar, and predates zipcar (barely).
    • by Bazman ( 4849 )
      Here we see the flexcar hiding behind a small bulding, waiting for a zipcar to appear. Here comes one now. It has drifted away from its pack and is vulnerable. The zipcar pounces...

      Oh, pre-dates.... :)

      • Every dictionary I checked says "to precede in time" is a correct use of "predate".

        In fact, none of them said anything about "predate" being used in the "predator" sense that you tried to.
  • Very Interesting (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Playboy3k ( 552242 )
    I can just imagine people hacking them and havin some good old fun but on the other side if they do track u is that spyware?
    • Re:Very Interesting (Score:5, Informative)

      by scenic ( 4226 ) <sujal@suja l . n et> on Sunday October 13, 2002 @12:43PM (#4440955) Homepage Journal
      They don't track AFAIK. I'm a customer. I remember a few months ago that someone forgot to return the Zipcar right before they went on vacation (I guess they were rushed and just zoned on returning it). Anyway, Zipcar could tell the car was alive and well somewhere, but couldn't track it down via the transmitter on board. I'm not sure if that prompted them to install or plan on location aware systems on board, but I haven't received any emails updating us on policy changes.


  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 13, 2002 @05:27AM (#4440071)
    1) Identify Zipcar card holder.
    2) Beat holder senseless and steal his zipcard.
    3) ???
    4) JOYRIDE!!!!11!!1
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 13, 2002 @06:30AM (#4440137)
    It's about time, the car-rental industry caught up. zipgirl have been at it for years.
  • by Kidbro ( 80868 ) on Sunday October 13, 2002 @07:22AM (#4440197)
    I've been involved in the development of a similar project, which has not hit the market yet (and probably never will, due to other factors than technology). We didn't go for the "wave your card in from of the windshield" approach, but used SMS(!) for communication. Essentially, there was a GPS receiver and a GSM module in the car, and a box stuffed with our custom software.
    The user made a booking on a website. When he was by the car, he sent an SMS to our server, which analyzed the SMS (for passphrase, phone number, correct car id etc), and if the SMS passed the tests an encrypted unlock request was sent to the car. Similar approach was used when locking the car.
    The stuff was combined with GPS so, yes, we could keep track of the cars - but that info was SMS based too - we sen't a "please tell us your position" SMS to the car, which then replied with GPS coordinates. So, I guess that if you managed to unlock the car (which was non-trivial, you'd have to hack our encryption scheme and protocol - tricky but possible), and then trash the GSM module you'd be safe. OTOH, the cars we were using (or rather, supposed to use this with) were highly peculiar (as in they certainly stood out in a crowd) electric driven things that had a range of 90 km, so it wouldn't really do you much good.

    It was a rather cool project, actually :) To bad it never took off, but nice to hear that someone else got things through the non technical stumbling blocks of such a huge project...
  • Zipcar in Boston (Score:5, Informative)

    by blues5150 ( 161900 ) on Sunday October 13, 2002 @08:21AM (#4440258) Homepage
    I haven't used one, but I've seen one in Boston. Zipcar has one of these cars located in a parking lot on the corner of Congress St and Boston Wharf Rd. It seems to get used often enough because it's not always in its assigned space. It doesn't seem like a bad idea for people who may not be able to afford to have a car in the city.
    • Can someone make a wireless hack so that I can move that particular zip car out of the best spot in the lot to make room for mine?


      As it is, all of that construction has taken over some spots, then they put those stupid potted trees and shrubs in more of the best spots.

      Of course I could just be an ass like the black Corrola and make my own space every day.

      BTW, that particular lot is cheap ($8) but NOT IF YOU PARK OVERNIGHT. I parked there for 2 days and it ends up $24 a day.

      If you need to leave your car overnight, try to make use of the spots across the street. The city still has yet to put meters there.

  • I'm a customer (Score:5, Informative)

    by Sebbo ( 28048 ) <sebbo@seb[ ]org ['bo.' in gap]> on Sunday October 13, 2002 @11:16AM (#4440647) Homepage Journal

    The wave-your-card thing isn't very sensitive--I've generally had to actually touch the windshield to get it to register. I think the tech is the same that a lot of companies are using for ID cards these days--a radio pulse, if memory serves, that the cards reflect in a particular way.

    Flexcar is a direct competitor in DC now.

    The web signup form is pretty slick, They're trying to setup a phone signup as well, but it's not available yet.

    I'm a new driver--just got my license this summer. My girlfriend's car is a stickshift, which kind of scares me. I'm in the habit of getting around by bus & bike. Apart from direct utility, Zipcar is giving me a chance to get practice driving every couple weeks.

    My second session with with Prius Pam at Alewife, which was fun! People who enjoy riding different kinds of cars might want to get a trial membership just to muck around, particularly once they get the Mini Cooper in [].
    • by cybermace5 ( 446439 ) <> on Sunday October 13, 2002 @12:24PM (#4440865) Homepage Journal
      Apart from direct utility, Zipcar is giving me a chance to get practice driving every couple weeks.

      Somewhere out there, a Zipcar employee has a heart attack.
      • Newbies welcome (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Sebbo ( 28048 )
        Actually, they seem to encourage people like me. I took an interest in Zipcar a couple years ago, before I had my license, and corresponded with the CEO, Robin Chase, about it. She urged me to join, and I explained that I didn't drive.

        "Well," she wrote, "then you'll have a clean record when you apply!"

        I said to a friend of mine recently: I could buy a car, and practice with one that I own, I could borrow a car from someone I have a personal relationship with, or I can do Zipcar,and be using one I have a business relationship with. That really seems like the best idea of the three.
    • I HATE those So-called Mini Coopers... They bear even less relationship to the real Mini Cooper than the new Beetle does to the old one.

      Look at the name Mini... Guess what, it's supposed to be small. You could practically fit an original Mini Cooper in the boot (trunk for Americans) of these over sized monstrosities...

      I assume it's a safety feature making them so much bigger. After all the guys driving over sized trucks with lift kits on them wouldn't be able to see something as small as an original Mini Cooper... Mind you, you could probably drive the Mini under some of them...


      • I believe it's the smallest conventionally-fuelled car being sold in the US today. Sorry that's not good enough for you.
        • I'm sorry too... And I don't believe it...

          I'm sure that someone out there has a REAL mini cooper for sale today...

          So, it may be "the smallest conventionally-fuelled new car being sold in the US today."

          If you want to see a REAL mini cooper and a six foot tall human next to it to get some idea of real size have a look at this picture. []


          • Correction accepted.

            I still think you're being fussy, though.
            • Of course I'm being fussy... But I only moved to the US three years ago. In the UK smaller cars are normal... A large British car is tiny compared to most SUVs... I used to walk and use public transport to get everywhere, now I have to drive to some places ... It takes me about an hour to commute to work by public transport, compared to twenty minutes by car.

              Even worse, the kind of car I like (2CV, Morris Minor,...) is not easily usable over here (even if you can find one) because all of those Suburban drivers with lift kits, pit bulls and Road rage will try and drive you off the road. (I've had that happen while I was driving a mini van... the *&%*er drove off of the road and back on to get back in front of me after I had dared to pass him. If I had been driving a small car I'm sure he would have tried to drive over the top of me.)

  • re: Zipcar (Score:5, Informative)

    by dogzilla ( 83896 ) on Sunday October 13, 2002 @12:01PM (#4440789) Homepage
    My wife and I are pretty much the target market for ZipCar. We live in Boston's South End. Our car was costing us $600/month in lease, insurance, parking spot rent, gas, and parking tickets, and we were using it about 4 times a month, so we got rid of it. When we heard about Zipcar, we joined up.

    Within a 4 block radius of us there are 5 zipcars, parked in various alleys and parking lots. Prices range from $6-$8/hour and @ 40 a mile. The cars are all nice economy cars (Beetles, Jettas, etc.) The website reservation system works incredibly well, and the people are very nice to deal with. Zipcar even hosts occasional get-togethers around the area (we went to one - an outdoor picnic at the DeCordoba museum - nice and not at all cultish as I expected).

    My take on it? Zipcar is a great deal for people who live in a city, especially one where having a car is outrageously expensive such as Boston, San Francisco, or NYC. For many people, an automobile is difficult to give up. But like smoking, once you do you realize how much of your time and money it consumes, and how much happier you are without it - especially since so few people actually *need* a car.

    I found a car was more a pain in the ass than anything else (I'm old enough that I no longer tie my self-image to inanimate objects I own), and for those few times when I actually need a car, Zipcar fills the need with a minimum of hassle and at a reasonable price. For longer trips (say, anyhting over 20 miles or 1/2 day) renting a car is cheaper...for now.
    • Difficult to give up? I'd say so. That means I would be at the mercy of the merchants within walking distance and/or the piss-poor service that one often associates with public transport. I don't like people to begin with, so cramming me in a metal box with lots of others is not enjoyable. I'd rather live in the sticks with a car.

      • I would be at the mercy of the merchants within walking distance and/or the piss-poor service that one often associates with public transport.

        Well, he did say it was good for people who live in big cities like NYC or San Fran. And those cities have good (and varied) merchants in walking distance, almost anywhere you live, AND good public transport. When I lived in NYC, I didn't have a car and was happier. When I needed one for a weekend trip, I rented one. Worked out great.
    • Our car was costing us $600/month in lease, insurance... weren't using it for business?

      It would be a good idea for a seperate business credit card to use with the ZipCar

    • I tried to, but couldn't, justify the zipcar argument. (I'm in the s/e as well, btw)

      For w/e trips, a rental is cheaper, and for infrequent short trips, such as shopping, a cab is cheaper. That's all I need a car for, pretty much. Ok, so I can't impress dates with my car, but zipcar would hardly help there either.

      The only niche for a zipcar would be if I often had a day's worth of errands, as pretty much the only arguments are convenience of pickup, and letting you run around town on your own.

      I was toying with rolling something like this for myself and friends: pool a bit of money, buy a cheap car, insure it to the wazoo. Since I need a car less that 10% of the time, almost 10 people could share the car. Resident parking the SE isn't that bad. I figured it should be easy to get access to a decent car for a bit under $100 a month. In the end, that failed the cab/rental acid test as well: $100 is quite a bit of cabbage and rentals; more than I spend at any rate.

      Do rental agencies deliver? That would make zipcar even less attractive.
  • by AvitarX ( 172628 ) <me AT brandywinehundred DOT org> on Sunday October 13, 2002 @12:35PM (#4440911) Journal
    America, wave snazzy card, rent car by the hour.

    Holland, swipe snazzy card, rent bike by the hour.

    • Utah, swipe snazzy card, put $60 of fuel in my gas tank.

      It's great to have a big ol' Suburban. I feel like such a hick. I could carpool with 11 people, but I drive alone. Muwahahaha!
      • must be a marketing manager that lives out in the suburbs. You probably live alone and drive on the highway every day back and forth to work. So, naturally, you need a vehicle that can drive across arctic tundra and can seat 12 people.

        Have you test driven the latest Mobiatsu Monstrosity? :)
    • That's only because Holland is so small, if you fart in Amsterdam you can smell it in Belgium. ;-)
    • America, wave snazzy card, rent car by the hour.

      Holland, swipe snazzy card, rent bike by the hour.

      Amsterdam, swipe snazzy card, rent a bong by the hour
  • by scenic ( 4226 ) <sujal@suja l . n et> on Sunday October 13, 2002 @12:40PM (#4440942) Homepage Journal
    In fact, I'm using one today to go to a wedding. :)

    Zipcar is best for folks that don't want to deal with owning a car and only use it for short periods of time. It's not really cost effective for full day rentals (of course, I'm saying this while I have a full day rental today...). You can rent a car from Avis or Hertz at better rates for the whole day even if you add insurance and gas (which you don't have to pay directly in the Zipcar case). The tradeoff is, of course, that you have to get to a rental car place (the closest zipcar is a block away from my apartment). And deal with gas, etc. That's why, for example, I'm using it today for the wedding... I'm going to be coming home late from the reception, and I don't want to deal with dropping a car off tonight at a rental place, or with parking it overnight without getting a ticket. So, it's worth it to me to pay $15-20 more just for that ($65 vs. $50ish for a rental with gas+insurance).

    But, for short trips, like to BJ's (which is far away from any sort of T/public transportation) or for the once a month super-stock-up-on-non-perishables grocery runs, it's invaluable and quite cost effective. Especially here in Mass... I just had two friends pay their excise taxes on their cars. Man, they were complaining for DAYS about that. My zipcar bills for 6 months adds up to their excise tax. Forget about insurance, gas, parking (or parking tickets with on street parking in Boston), maintenance, etc.

    With Zipcar, you pay per hour (between $5-8 depending on their cost for the parking space) plus $0.40/mile (with 125 free miles on full day rentals). that's the other thing... long trips even for a short time can add up. And, you're indirectly paying for the gas and maintenance of the car. But, for short trips, it hardly matters. I always estimate costs for my errands by just adding another hour onto my reservation times. Generally, that works out to be a reasonable estimate.

    The cars are generally well-maintained, clean, and easy to find. I have 5 cars within a 5 minute walk. :) It makes a huge difference to my quality of life in the city.


  • Zipcar Rules (Score:5, Informative)

    by mattdm ( 1931 ) on Sunday October 13, 2002 @06:42PM (#4442338) Homepage
    We've been Zipcar members in Boston for more than a year, and we're incredibly happy with it. It helps that there's a car that lives right in the parking lot of our apartment complex, but there's other nearby convenient ones too. We've had no problem getting the car when we need it, but it also seems to be gone often enough that we know we're not the only users. The technology they use is great -- works in a way that is almost indistinguishable from magic. And the people are nice and responsive, as are the cars, for that matter. Really, I can't recommend it enough for city-dwellers.

    The only problem is that I lie in bed at night worrying that they'll go the way of Kozmo.
  • Car co-ops (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Ratface ( 21117 ) on Monday October 14, 2002 @07:23AM (#4444670) Homepage Journal
    Here in Sweden there's a similar scheme (though without the snazzy technical solution). There are many car co-operatives where for a small yearly sum one gets access to one of several cars the co-op owns for a much lower rental price than a straightforward hire car.

    For drivers like myself (living near enough to work to cycle and not requiring a car on a daily basis) the system works out incredibly well.

    Hmmm - if I were in the market to start my own company I would actually look at something like Zipcar and aim it at the London area. I would love to try and help reduce the amount of privately owned cars in the UK.

  • In San Francisco... (Score:3, Informative)

    by dubl-u ( 51156 ) <> on Monday October 14, 2002 @08:54PM (#4450126)
    In the San Francisco area there's a similar outfit called City CarShare [], although if I recall correctly, ZipCar is a for-profit concern; City CarShare is a nonprofit.

    I've been a member for a year or so, and I love it. On the rare occasions I need a car, I reserve one via the web and walk a couple of blocks to pick it up. Every month they send me a bill. I don't have to worry about insurance, repairs, parking tickets, breakins, or any of the other car owner headaches. They even take care of gas; when the car is running low, there's a fleet card in the glovebox that lets you fuel up almost anywhere.

    The drawbacks are pretty minor: If I need a car on a weekend day, I have to reserve a few days in advance. And the rates are such that if I'm going more than about 30 miles away, I'm better off just getting a car from Enterprise.

    But overall, it's great! Since I live in an urban area, I just don't need a car very often, and so I end up saving a lot of money by just getting one for the few hours a month I actually use one.
  • by tashian ( 617348 ) <sd@tashian.MONETcom minus painter> on Tuesday October 15, 2002 @11:37AM (#4453617) Homepage

    Hi, I'm one of the engineers at Zipcar. Here are some quick answers to the questions you posted:

    Does anyone know what kind of wireless network they use?

    We use the CDPD network at the moment. One day, when we get around to it, we'll use GPRS. CDPD is slowish but all our packets are tiny (we use maybe 30kb per month per car), so it's fine for us.

    Can they track the car while you're driving it?

    For our members' privacy, we don't have GPS in the cars. We can sense the ignition, track the mileage, and keep up with who enters and exits the car, but that's about it. We don't want to know where the members are, and in two years we've only "lost" a car once or twice, so the benefit to us is pretty small. (incidentally, "Do you have GPS?" is the most frequently asked technology question for us.. people think we should have it because it's cool)

    Have people been using zipcars, and what have their impression been?

    I use it myself and I love it, but I'm biased. See the other replies from our members in this thread.

    Is this the future of cars for city dwellers?

    We'll see! (I hope!)

  • by matt_wilts ( 249194 ) <> on Tuesday October 15, 2002 @12:50PM (#4454309)
    What happens if you find the car (internally or externally) dirty? (e.g. mud on the outside, fast-food on the inside)

    I note you are not allowed to smoke - what happens if you do? Hopefully the airbags go off.. ;-)

    Basically, I'm just wondering what would happen if the slob after you said "oh, the guy before me made all this mess".

    • Since our members are all repeat drivers they are generally very well behaved, respectful, etc. It doesn't work if they aren't.

      We do see about 1 in every 1,000 people who are either unclear on the concept or anti-social enough to warrant closing their account, generally after a few repeat offenses -- kind of like three strikes and you're out.
  • Hey, is Zipcar publically held? In large cities, this could be the best thing since cars themselves. I would love to invest, if Bush ever stops screwing up the market (How the hell can a president drive down the economy and still be in a 'wartime' ecomony?), in Zipcar.

    Its seems like a really great idea, and even the jadedness of citydwelling slashdot members seem to find zipcar favorable. I mean, if it can pass the ./ approval with little friction, it's gotta be good. Half the time we can't even decide if a new kernel patch is good or not, let alone cars..

"So why don't you make like a tree, and get outta here." -- Biff in "Back to the Future"