Low use of Zipcars endangers new vehicle renting service

Four Zipcars have been online since December, but with little marketing and delays in the setup, students have been slow to take advantage of the service. If utilization does not increase, Zipcar may pull one or two of its four cars on campus, according to Tim Reisler, assistant director for administrative services. However, he expressed confidence that the company would try keeping all four cars for a full year. “The cars are getting pretty good usage for the number of members here,” Reisler said.

The vehicles, which can be rented on an hourly or daily basis, are spread out over campus. The Mini Cooper is located behind Chapin Hall, the Element Eldridge and Civic Hybrid are at the North Street Garage and an additional Civic Hybrid is located in the Currier House lot.

Fifty-five students and faculty members have become members since the service was implemented. In the past month, the Civic Hybrid located at Currier has been operated 24 percent of the time on weekdays and 67 percent of the time on weekends. The cars in the garage have been used between 10 and 27 percent of the time.

The College has no monetary stake in the use of the Zipcars on campus. All the expenses incurred are covered by Zipcar, but all the benefits accrue to them as well. Although Zipcar had initially required a revenue guarantee from the College before implementing the system, they eventually agreed to set up the system without one.

Students, faculty and staff can apply for an account at www.zipcar.com/williams for $35 a year. A member need only be over 18 years old, and those over 21 years can access Zipcars around major U.S. cities as well as Toronto, Vancouver and London. On campus, the Mini Cooper and Element can be rented for an hourly rate of $11 or a daily rate of $77. The two Civic Hybrids can be rented at $8 per hour or $60 for the day. The fees include gas, insurance and the reserved parking spot.

For first-years, Zipcar may be the answer to buying snacks, watching a movie or picking up supplies from Target. “As a first-year student, I am not allowed to have a car, and while I understand the college’s need for this rule, it can be frustrating at times,” said Meredith Annex ’11. “With Zipcar, however, I can get wherever I need to.”

Originally, the College had signed a contract with Flexcar to bring four vehicles to campus. As arrangements were being made, problems arose as Flexcar employed the T-mobile cell phone network – which provides limited service in the Berkshires – to signal online reservations to the vehicles. As such, the cars had to be rewired and refitted to receive a new carrier’s signal, delaying the program’s launch.

During this time, Flexcar was being acquired by Zipcar, a Cambridge-based company and Flexcar’s U.S. rival. The merger will be completed this spring.