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Honk If You Don’t Mind Sharing

With two competitors now challenging Zipcar’s dominance in the rent-by-the-hour market, the fiscal argument for ditching your vehicle has never been stronger. How the three compare.

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Zipcar
zipcar.com

Connect by Hertz
connectbyhertz.com

Main Draw
The convenience. By far the city’s largest operator, Zipcar is stationed at more than 200 lots around New York and New Jersey (mostly clustered in Manhattan and north Brooklyn, with none in Staten Island). Hybrids. Toyota Priuses are as low as $10 an hour. Plus all 200 of the company’s vehicles have GPS systems so you don’t waste gas getting hopelessly lost. There are ten locations, all between 20th and 34th Streets. The price. It only has 24 cars in its fleet, which is dispersed among ten lots in Manhattan, so Mint is trying to elbow its way in by offering seductively low rates.
How Much?*
There’s a $25 application fee and $50 annual fee. The cheapest cars, including the VW Rabbit I rented, are $11 per hour on weekdays ($13 on weekends); a BMW 328 is $15 per hour on weekdays ($17 on weekends). It’s $25 to sign up and $50 for a yearlong membership, just like Zipcar. I paid $10 per hour to rent a Prius and $12 per hour for a Toyota Camry. A $25 application fee buys a one-year membership. (Cleverly, the fee is waived if you bring in a competitor’s key card). I paid just $2 per hour midweek to rent a Smart Fortwo and $13 per hour for a Mercedes C300.
Clean?
The Rabbit was splattered in road salt and smelled like a typical suburban van—not all that bad for a car with 49,325 miles on it. The BMW was crusted in dirt and the floor was filthy. Both cars, however, drove fine. At just over 3,000 miles per auto, the new-car smell in both vehicles was intoxicating. Though the fleet is supposedly washed and maintained by Hertz staffers, the Prius’s exterior was pretty grimy. The Smart car had low tire pressure despite having logged just 2,000 miles. The Benz was showroom-fresh. Both drove great.
Ease of Booking
As simple as advertised. I went online on a Saturday and still managed to find cars available that day near my apartment in Park Slope. The selection was limited, but the reservation system worked flawlessly. Piece of cake. The company is still getting the word out, apparently; I went online at the last minute on a holiday weekend, and found dozens of cars available. Also seamless. When I looked on a Saturday, there was nearly a full selection. Mint sent me a confirmation e-mail immediately and a follow-up reminder hours before pickup.
High-Tech Touches
The Zipcar key card embedded with a computer chip was sent to my home four days after I registered; inside the car was a gas card, which could be used for free refueling, and an E-Z Pass for toll booths. Cars come with the requisite key card, gas card, and E-Z Pass, plus the handy GPS. There was an iPod connection in the Prius; in the Camry a sticker read “Connect MP3 player,” but there was no accompanying cable. As with the other two companies, I got a key card, a gas card, and an E-Z Pass. There’s also an iPod connector in each car. Somebody left a dance-mix CD for me in the Benz.
Coming Soon
More cars and new locations. The company is working to fend off Hertz with plans to expand into underserved areas of Queens and the Bronx, as well as Jersey City and Newark, New Jersey. More uptown and downtown locations will come online by summer, with a couple hundred more vehicles being added to the fleet throughout the year. Drivers will get discounted parking at affiliated lots starting this week. There are also plans to boost the fleet up to 50 cars and add more locations (including Brooklyn) by this summer.

*Each company offers rental plans for heavy users that waive annual fees but require monthly minimum deposits, between $50 and $250.


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