22 August 2007

Car Sharing at Colleges Is Introduced

Yes, I know that nearly everyone who has gone to college in the past half century has shared their car (or borrowed a friend's car) from time to time. I had the pleasure of driving a friend's 1978 Volare wagon back in 1995, when I could have instead driven my 1992 Oldsmobile Achieva.

This is something different, though. Two companies that provide primarily urban car sharing, ZipCar and FlexCar, have started expanding their service to college campuses in recent months.

The college car sharing plans work similarly to the urban car sharing plans that these firms offer. Once enrolled in the program for a nominal annual fee (usually around $35), you reserve a car (usually a Civic or other compact car) and go to various locations (identified by the company online or via phone), swipe your card, hop into the car and drive away. Hourly rates are usually between $5 and $10, and include gasoline and a relatively large mileage allowance. For someone who lives in a city, they're a great alternative to car ownership and all of the insurance, parking, and vandalism headaches that it can entail.

These companies have now decided to move into the next logical arena - car sharing for college students. The plans work almost identically, except the cars are picked up at locations around campus instead of in a city, and ZipCar or FlexCar contract with the school's fleet department to perform weekly inspections, cleaning, and maintenance.

While most rental companies will not rent to individuals under age 21, and tack on sometimes-hefty surcharges for renters between age 21 and 25, FlexCar and ZipCar are allowing renters as young as 18 to borrow cars for occasional use, as long as they have two years of driving history and adequate liability insurance. The companies are also encouraging faculty and fleet departments to utilize their cars when needed rather than maintaining their own vehicles.

To me, this is a brilliant idea. Many schools do not allow freshmen or sophomores to have cars on campus - car sharing solves that. Many schools are in urban areas with limited parking - car sharing solves that because each shared car gets its own dedicated parking space.

The kinds of cars that are available may not set enthusiasts' hearts a-flutter, but they are a nice, relatively inexpensive solution to not having "wheels" available when needed for a trip to the grocery store. I'd encourage parents of college students, and even college students themselves, to look into these services.

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