Zipcar over I-GO: A Paper-Thin Advantage


(Photo: Paper and pen not included. Credit: Zipcar.)

Little did I know when I opined on the absurdity of life last week that things would just get stranger come the weekend. They did for Devyn and me, courtesy of a 35-mile Zipcar drive through the western hinterland, in the form of our accidental attendance at a free outdoor Davy Jones concert in Geneva.

Of Monkees and Marcia Brady fame, yes, that Davy Jones. We did what you’d probably have done, too. We stayed to hear “I’m a Believer” and then booked for all we were worth.

Zipcar made that escape easier. Having been an occasional user (well ok, passenger, what with that whole never having learned to drive thing and all) of both of Chicago’s car sharing services over the past two months, the for-profit Zipcar’s ease of use is what stands out most.

Unfortunately, my day job chooses the local nonprofit I-GO as their car sharing service of choice. Our typical booking goes something like this:

1. Walk to dark corner in Millennium Park Parking Garage.
2. Tap smart card on windshield card reader.
3. Tap smart card again on windshield card reader.
4. Hold now merely alleged smart card firmly against reader for 60 seconds while cursing and tapping foot until car finally unlocks.
5. Put smart card away.
6. Reach into glove compartment and fumble for key.
7. Reach into glove compartment and fumble for book of paper trip receipts and pen.
8. Pray ceiling light works.
9. Write down gas level, odometer mileage, member number, card number, date, and time.
10. Bitch that you’re gonna be late now.
11. Start trip.
12. Ignore smart card and fumble with key to lock and unlock car for duration of trip.
13. End trip.
14. Write down gas level, odometer mileage, date, and time.
15. Pray that smart card locks car within 60 seconds of repeated tapping.
16. Complain to colleagues for not choosing Zipcar.

Um, paper and pen? What year is this, 1996? Why on earth should I have to write down the details of a reservation that I-GO already has recorded in its booking system? Moreover, what good is a smart card that turns dumb the moment you start your trip?

At home, Devyn’s a Zipcar member. Here’s how our weekend Zipcar jaunts have panned out:

1. Walk to well-lit above ground garage.
2. Tap smart card on windshield card reader.
3. Enter instantly unlocking car.
4. Find key permanently hanging from steering wheel.
5. Start car and drive away.
6. Use smart card to lock and unlock car during trip.
7. End trip.
8. Lock car instantly with smart card.
9. Go home.

Unlike I-GO, Zipcar keeps track of your use of the car automatically, via a radio-frequency identification (RFID) system, so there’s no paperwork required. At all. As any automated car-sharing service should be in 2006. Or even any need to fumble with keys outside the car.

Basically, all you need do is remember your smart card and Zipcar takes care of the rest. Any I-GO member who doesn’t have a lot of time to waste, especially during the workday, can probably commiserate with the experience of arriving for your reservation without something to write with and not finding a pen in the car. Or forgetting to fill out the duplicative but necessary paperwork at the end of your trip. Or, frankly, just not wanting to be bothered with it.

And you shouldn’t have to be.

In August, when I first expressed my preference for Zipcar over I-GO, I favored the for-profit service because of its wide choice of vehicles versus I-GO’s restrictive fleet of Hondas (and primarily Civics, at that). Unfortunately, my past two months of additional experience with I-GO haven’t done anything to sway my opinion any closer towards that service. And I really have tried to like it. Done my best. Just can’t stand it. I’d simply like a little more modern technology in my day-to-day, thanks.

Pardon me now if I duck. When I compared the two car-sharing services in August, I was summarily dressed down by an I-GO staffer for not supporting the local non-profit service, on the shaky assumption that being a nonprofit somehow put them above reproach.

But should any I-GO staffers still be reading, know that I do welcome your thoughts on this posting. This time, though, why not switch it up a little and snail mail me?

For full effect, I suggest writing your rebuttal on the back of a trip receipt from the passenger seat of the Matrix you’ve so cleverly stowed in perhaps the darkest corner of the Millennium Park Parking Garage. Extra points if you find a pen in the car. Or if the car lets you in in the first place.

Zipcar, I’m a believer.

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