New Car on the Block

I’m sure many of you have heard of or seen the new car-sharing cars around town. Zipcar has moved into the city, offering up some competition to the homegrown Cooperative Auto Network (CAN).

I think competition in any industry is a great thing, though I think comparing a co-op to a for-profit service is a bit apples and oranges.

Regardless, I thought it would be interesting to compare one of my CAN invoices to the rates for Zipcar, and see how much they differ.

In a nutshell, CAN bills by the hour and the kilometer. There’s also a monthly administration fee. The cars are ALWAYS $2/h, regardless of the type of car you’re booking. Exceptions: the maximum charge is $24/day, and there is no hourly charge between 11:00pm and 7:00am.

The kilometer and administration rates vary, depending on the amount of driving you do in a calendar month. Rates are calculated at all three price points ($6.25/mo + $0.38/km, $15.00/mo + $0.28/km, $40.00/mo + $0.18/km) and you’re always charged the lowest.

Zip Cars are charged by the hour or day. Period. Kilometers (150/day) are automatically included, and rates vary depending on the vehicle you want. In Vancouver, that translates to $9.75/h ($69.00/day) for regular economy cars (Yaris, Mazda 3, Civic) or $11.75/h ($87.50/day) for trucks or “cool” (Mini, Prius) cars.

Both programs include the cost of fuel, maintenance and insurance. With gas prices being what they are, CAN added a “fuel-fluctuation adjustment” when prices went over $0.80/L. It’s based on the average price of gas and fleet fuel consumption over the calendar month.

So how does that translate into hard costs each month?

In February 2007 I drove 199kms. I took seven trips, ranging from 1-7 hours in duration. My most cost-efficient plan was the “moderate” plan, giving me the $15/mo + $0.28/km rate. The total fuel-fluctuation amount was $0.0337/km.

My total CAN driving costs were $116.84, plus the administration fee of $15. CAN total = $131.84. That doesn’t include a discount of $5.11 for keeping my account up to date.

Here’s what the breakdown would look like in a Zip car:
Feb. 1, 2 hours = $19.50
Feb. 2, 7 hours (truck) = $82.25
Feb. 9, 2 hours = $19.50
Feb. 15, 3 hours = $29.25
Feb. 16, 4 hours = $39.00
Feb. 19, 1.5hours = $14.63
Feb. 21, 1hour = $9.75

Zipcar total: $213.88

The Zip car would cost nearly double. Actually more than that, because the only cars available in my neighbourhood are “cool” cars – so I would mostly be paying the $11.75 rate, rather than the $9.75. Though Zipcar does offer discounts (around 10%) for pre-paying at least $50 every month, the $50 doesn’t roll-over if you don’t use it. Also, my average trip length is about 25kms. To use the included 150kms/day, you’d have to be driving to Abbotsford and back on each trip.

The biggest advantage to using Zipcar is the very low barrier to entry.

In the nature of a Co-op, CAN reqires all members to purchase shares. These function the same as in any other co-op; they help maintain a healthy cash flow in the organization, and ensure a certain commitment level from members. It requires a commitment. The shares don’t accrue interest, and unless the co-op becomes insolvent, are fully refundable within 6 months of reneging your membership. The first member of a household is required to buy 50 share for $500, and an additional member must purchase 25 shares for $250. Nobody who’s ever owned a car should balk at these prices – they’re lower than the average repair bill – and anyone who’s truly committed to car-sharing should be willing to make a commitment to the cause, and the organization that makes it possible.

Conversely, Zipcar only requires your $25 initiation fee.

With the ease of access to Zipcars, parked in neighbourhoods and available 24/7 with the use of your secure entry card, they’re certainly a more convenient way to rent cars. You’re paying a for-profit company for the use of their vehicles – at a great premium. But it’s certainly a handy way to do it if you only need a car very occasionally, or regularly rent cars anyway.

But I think that anyone who is truly committed to the principles of car-sharing (which is pretty community minded in the first place), and wants to use car-sharing as their primary mode of transportation, would be A-OK with the initial share purchase. And it obviously would only take a few months to recoup that $500 in share costs with the simple savings of using CAN over Zipcar. Not to mention the fact that with CAN, you do get that $500 initial investment back if/when you leave the co-op.

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3 thoughts on “New Car on the Block

  1. Pingback: Zipcar Comes to Vancouver | DarrenBarefoot.com

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