Kate Sharp walks up to a 2010 Scion xB, brandishing a light grey card the size of a debit card. She taps the card on the windshield, and the doors unlock, no keys necessary. With her foot on the brake, she pushes the big power button adjacent to the steering wheel. Kate and her friend, I’m told, are headed to PetSmart to pick up a new pet frog—their last critter met an untimely death in Boise State’s Towers Dormitory.
“I’ve used it about five times,” says Sharp. “I didn't bring a car here, and the cars I have at home are big and take a lot if gas. But this is really awesome.”
ZipCar, the car-sharing service gaining popularity in the United States, recently installed four of its vehicles on the Boise State campus. The green z-mobiles are at opposite ends of the campus, with two Toyota Priuses and two Scion xBs. The program seeks to allow students—starting at age 18, rather than 25 for most rentals—a way to drive without the hassle and expense of owning a car.
So rather than just report on it, this author signed up for the program, and within a few days my ZipCard, the aforementioned access pass, showed up in the mail. Signing up was a cinch. I navigated to the website, put in some credentials about my driving history, my license number, and my credit card number. Boise State ZipCar users will pay a $35.00 initial fee, but that amount will be transferred to driving credit, which starts at $8/hour, or $66 for the whole day.
On the website, you reserve the car during the time slot you need it. A bar depicting all 24 hours of the day shows you when it’s available, and lets you expand your time accordingly. On a Wednesday, the car was unavailable for three hours in the early morning, so we slotted our time from 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. At three hours, the car cost us a total of $25.15 in credit.
At a few minutes after one, my girlfriend and I followed Sharp’s move, holding the card over the black box in the upper right-hand corner of the windshield. After a few seconds, the doors unlocked, and we entered the shiny 2010 Toyota Prius, AKA “Pietz”. The car comes with a guidebook in the glove compartment, a hookup for your iPod, lots of cargo space in the hatchback, and luscious air conditioning (a luxury we never indulge).
I’d suggest the Prius to anybody. It’s fun to drive, and rides like a dream. Granted, it’s not overly powerful, but it’s got lots of space and makes you feel like you’re doing something good for the environment. I loved how quietly you’d start off the line, utilizing the battery to get the car up to speed. It sounded like we were in a spaceship, and felt like it too—right down to the dials on the gauge and the “ecometer” showing up green you’re being. Toyota can’t mind the facetime with potential buyers—these college students could one day drive a future Prius when they’ve gone suburban.
The best part about ZipCar: gas is covered. This means that you can drive the way you want, all your accessories charging, air conditioning blasting, etc. Just fill up the tank to more than ¾ of a gallon with the including “gas only” credit card in the visor, and you’re good to go. If it ever doesn’t work, we read, you can received reimbursement from ZipCar for the gas you buy.
We ran errands for a little less than three hours, driving over twenty miles with the air conditioning on a full blast. In my girlfriend’s Jetta, the trip would have cost us approximately one full gallon of gas, not to mention the initial cost of buying the car, insurance, regular maintenance, oil changes, emissions, and more. Inversely, if you travel more than 13 miles in one hour with the ZipCar, you outweigh the cost of driving your own car.
At the end of our journey, we parked the car, removed all of our belongings, closed the doors, and locked the car one last time. Once 4:00 p.m. slipped by, our card would no longer work on the Prius. I envision some late-night runs to Burger King in “Pietz” very soon.
Check out our 20+ mile route on Google Maps.