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I-(didn’t)-GO: Why We Chose Zipcar

(Photo: Would you share this car? Credit: Zipcar.)

Sometimes it’s hard to be a conservation-minded urbanist. Especially when you’re faced with a choice between local car-sharing services I-GO and Zipcar. Such was the dilemma last week for Devyn, my annoyingly self-doubting, enormously gifted architectural photo-essayist boyfriend.

Devyn had a long history of car trips before we hooked up last year, and though I’m a committed transit user, it’s not like I ever intend to visit, say, Ikea, on the RTA. (Having commuted to scum–er–Schaumburg from the city before for work, I know how sucky that trip is). So every now and then, when the idea of Swedish furniture, or the Indiana Dunes, or the Milwaukee Art Museum rears its head, we’ve tended to rent a car. But that gets expensive, and, especially downtown, you’re at the mercy of the hours and locations of the few car rental firms that are nearby and open on weekends. Beyond Enterprise, those pickings are slim.

So we’d been toying with the idea of joining I-GO for awhile. Sponsored by the groovy, civic-minded, nonprofit Center for Neighborhood Technology, I-GO was the first car-sharing service to hit the streets of Hogtown. As with most car-sharing services, I-GO offers a flat membership fee, low hourly rates, and no hassles of additional insurance riders or filling up the gas tank on your own dime (insurance is included in membership fees and a company credit card is stowed in every car to pay for gas). It seemed too good to be true.

And for us, it was. When we actually compared I-GO to the new, for-profit national service, Zipcar, we were surprised to learn that the commercial service actually offered us a better deal.

Our only car trips tend to be medium-distance ones, out of the city, where transit fears to tread. Take Ikea. Fifty miles round-trip from our downtown abodes, a trip to the Swedish wonderland and back, with side trips and lunch thrown in, generally requires a car for six to eight hours. With I-GO’s Standard plan ($6/hour + .50/mile), we would pay at least $60. The All Day plan with 200 free miles also would cost $60. The supposedly more attractive Standard Plus plan ($8.25/hour + .50/mile, with 25 free miles) would set us back at least $62. That’s on top of a $75 membership fee and $25 annual maintenance fee. I-GO does offer frequent-driver plans, but those require membership fees of between $80 and a whopping $725.

Worse, your choice of car with I-GO is a Honda Civic. However, if you’d prefer, you can also rent a…Honda Civic. In fact, except for a few exceptions, I-GO’s fleet is comprised almost exclusively of Honda Civics. The Civic-heavy fleet was apparently chosen due to the mileage benefits of the car. But in my book, although I-GO’s cars are located all over the city, one choice is no choice at all.

Um, no sale.

With Zipcar’s standard plan ($9/hour + .30/mile, with 125 free miles), that Ikea trip of ours would begin at $54. And unless we brought the car back late, it would stay there. True, other rates are a bit higher, with a $50 annual fee and a $66 daily rate. But Devyn and I were still left wondering why the free mileage offered by I-GO was so paltry compared to Zipcar. Essentially, the I-GO pricing penalizes you for actually using the car, at least for anything more than short trips–the trips you could probably make more cheaply in a taxi, anyway.

Moreover, Zipcar’s higher incremental costs are more than made up for in one, screaming factor: choice. Zipcar offers one–a big one. Realizing that not all car trips are undertaken for the same reasons, Zipcar offers a variety of cars, from roomy, freight-hauling SUVs, to “coolness factor” cars like Minis and Mustangs, perfect for showing up in at that far-suburban high-school reunion. Right now, Zipcars are thinner on the ground than I-GO vehicles. But according to the Zipcar website, that will change as the for-profit company continues an aggressive local expansion strategy.

Now, obviously, I won’t be driving any of these automobiles. I, as always, remain the ultimate car-sharer, unwavering in my lifelong intention never to learn how to drive, preferring to take transit or read the map for my significant other from the passenger seat. But if I’m going to be ferried about Chicagoland on special occasions in an automobile, I might as well do it (as might we all):

a.) in style; and
b.) on the cheap.

Fuel efficiency aside, there’s something to be said about choice: you really ought to offer one. Devyn and I will be damned if I-GO expects us to plant our bearish butts into a boring old Honda Civic while paying a premium for the privelege. We’re both big supporters of the environmental benefits of car sharing, which a membership in Zipcar still offers. We’d just rather pull up to Ikea in a Scion.

It’s cooler. With Zipcar it’s cheaper. And, let’s face it, how much flat-packed Swedish furniture can you really fit in a Civic, anyway?

Categories: Cars & Car Sharing

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Michael Thaddeus Doyle

I'm a NYC-native, Latino, Jew-by-choice, hardcore WDW fan in Chicago with an Irish last name. I believe in social justice, big cities, and public transit. I do nonprofit development. I've written this blog since 2005. Believe in the world you want to live in.

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Contact: mikedoyleblogger@gmail.com

9 replies

  1. Zipcar Saves the Planet

    (Photo: Share a car, save the planet. Credit: Zipcar.) Next Monday, February 26, the folks over at Zipcar, Chicago’s for-profit but far better and very downtown-friendly car-sharing company (sorry, I-Go), are hosting a movie benefit at the opulent, ol…

  2. 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…

  3. I joined I-Go when they waived the sign up fee for employees of this fine establishment–we let them park cars here. I looked at Zip when they entered the market, but as much as I like the idea of driving the Mini, I-Go is a better deal for me.

    BTW, I’ve asked my alderman to see if the Council would exempt both programs from having to pay that tax on rentals that is supposed to be paid by tourists.

  4. Thanks for reading, West Tower Resident. In case you don’t know, Zipcar also has several cars within a few minutes walk or bus ride of Marina City, the nearest being two vehicles in the lot under the L on Hubbard between Franklin and Wells.

  5. Mike, fundamentally the reason you choose Zipcar instead of I-Go is because Zipcar offers more car variety. The money argument actually swings in I-Go’s favor.

    I am an I-Go user and would personally like more car variety; however I can see the business sense for keeping costs down, simple maintenance and easy customer service by having only two models of cars (BTW the 2006 Civics and Elements are roomy for me and I feel very comfortable in them). I am very price sensitive so the main reason I am on a car-sharing program is to save costs compared to owning a car.

    I will stay an I-Go user because it does offer excellent value – cheaper than Zipcar on an hourly basis, better insurance, 10+ cars within 10 minutes of Marina City. However I will try Zipcar because there are several times when I need to rent a car for a day, and Zipcar’s daily rate is cheaper than I-Go’s hourly rate and it applies to all Zipcars (there’s only one I-Go Go-All-Day car in downtown and I can’t count on that one car). Because of my usage it will actually be cheaper to have both memberships and use I-Go on an hourly rate and Zipcar on a daily rate.

    And damn.. I’d love to be in a Mini, S40, or BMW on the weekends =)

    An environmental argument won’t seal the deal for me. Dollars and cents will. Both companies cater to specific needs, have good business models, and are great values. I look forward to the competition!

    Keep up the great articles!

  6. Richie, Richie, Richie, such piss and vinegar for a nonprofit wonk. Might I suggest a relaxing hobby? Bird watching, perhaps, or maybe a nice round of golf?

    I’m sure you realize thwacking your potential customers over the head is not the best way to win them over. (Well, seeing as you work in nonprofit, then perhaps you don’t know that.) We have an I-GO account at work and, as you’ve read, a Zipcar account at home, so I have experience with both Chicago car-sharing services.

    I concede I-GO has Elements. I’ve now ridden in Elements both from I-GO and from Zipcar. However, much as you think a total choice of two vehicle models merits applause, I don’t. Essentially, I-GO’s choice is a teeny Civic, or a gargantuan Element. So I can either run an errand to the grocery store (as long as there’s no more than one other person in the car), or go to Ikea.

    Sorry, Richie, urban driving trips are more diverse than that, and I-GO’s cars should be equally diverse. Zipcar knows that. Why don’t you?

    Moving on, I don’t think it’s fair to compare the vehicle distribution of the only-just-arrived Zipcar with I-GO. I’m glad you’re in many Chicago neighborhoods, that’s a good thing. But I don’t live in the ‘hood, so pardon me for not giving a shiznit that if ever I wanted I could pop over to the ass end of Logan Square and jump in an I-GO (and having lived a block from where your cars are parked, I stand behind that statement).

    Finally, much as this may hurt to hear, most of your customers make their choices based on service and features, not on petulant cries of “but we’re a nonprofit, dammit”. Don’t believe me? Read the VentureWeek article here (aptly enough, concerning the battle between I-GO and Zipcar in the Chicago market):
    http://www.ventureweek.com/blog/2006/08/15/zipcar-vs-i-go-the-battle-of-profit-models/

    When you get right down to it, any car sharing program is a green endeavor on the face of it. Not every customer will want to drive a Mustang, but by ignoring their needs you’re just pushing them away–and right into the loving arms of Zipcar.

    Who, by the way, I’m pretty certain know that, when dealing with their customers, the best way to keep them happy–well, besides providing the services they actually need–is to remember that they’re always right. You might not agree with my opinion of I-GO’s services, and I’ll admit that both you and Zipcar are battling it out in terms of pricing plans. But if, as a customer (current or potential), I’m telling you how and why you aren’t meeting my needs, a better course of action might have been to show me how I-GO really could deliver.

    I’m still unconvinced. But don’t worry. Though I may be paying an incrementally higher fee, and may from time to time find myself ferried around by Devyn in a relatively less fuel-efficient vehicle than a Civic, D. and I have a real, actual, verifiable choice of vehicles with Zipcar. If we were alone in wanting such choice, a for-profit venture like Zipcar certainly wouldn’t be offering one.

    I-GO hit the market first and is offering a good service. If you could get over yourselves and actually learn what the market wants instead of ramming your good intentions down the throats of your potential customers, perhaps you could actually give Zipcar a run for their money. If you don’t, you’re just handing business to Zipcar in the neighborhoods where both car-sharing services exist.

    Of course, from the sound of you, you seem too wrapped up in the velvet cloak of the nonprofit world to actually be able to learn from a for-profit venture. As any business owner will tell you, ignoring both your market and your competitors is done at your own peril.

    Speaking of stupid ideas, the next time you want to fire off an ill-considered, customer-antagonistic email, try not submitting it to a citywide blog where your lack of judgment will live on likely longer than I-GO’s viable presence in my downtown neighborhood.

    Just a suggestion.

  7. I have worked at I-GO for the better part of 2 1/2 years and I think I’m in a pretty good position to comment on your posting. By the way, I’m going to keep this short because I’m extremely busy securing more locations for our cars and responding to inaccurate blogs.

    By my count, we have 15 Honda Elements in our fleet.(we are adding more Elements all of the time). We buy Elements for 2 main reasons; one is that with the back seats folded down they have a ton of cargo capacity; the other is they are low emission vehicles.

    You continually claim in your posting that we have a fleet of “old civics.” The fact is that most of our Civic Sedans and Civic Hybrid Sedans are 2005 and newer and our over 3000 members find more than adequate for their errand running needs. When they need more cargo capacity, they simply book one of our Elements.

    Since the majority of our members take relatively short trips in the city, either one of I-GO’s pay-as-you-go rate plans are cheaper than Zipcar. (Zipcar rates start at $9.00 an hour and go up from there). Our members know that we have done everything possible to keep our rates as low as possible and to make our cars as available as possible to all of our members, the mission of any true car sharing organization, not-for-profit or for- profit.

    You mistakenly state that our frequent driver plans require monthly membership fees of $80-$725. There are no monthly membership fees with I-GO. We have monthly driving plans that require no long term commitment and that our members can change from month to month or even within a month without any penalties. By the way, the 2 most popular monthly plans are the GO 10 at $80 a month and the GO 25 at $195 a month. These plans offers bundles of miles and hours that are discounted by 15%-20%. The $725 a month plan that you refer to is actually geared towards large businesses, not individuals.

    Finally, as with any decision that one makes about how to spend their hard earned money, I-GO members can count on the following:

    -$300,000 worth of premium insurance coverage (compare that to Zipcars paltry state minimum coverage);

    -As a member of “Local First” I-GO’s revenue stays here in Chicago and isn’t wasted on expensive marketing campaigns and inefficient gas guzzlers like Ford Mustangs.

    I-GO serves all of Chicago, not just neighborhoods that Zipcar has determined have the greatest potential to be profitable (try living in South Shore and finding a Zipcar). I-GO is currently operating in 28 Chicago neighborhoods as well as Evanston and Oak Park. No matter how much money Zipcar throws at Chicago and how many cars they add I can personally guarantee that they will never come close to serving the number of communities that I-GO does.

    I-GO’s fleet is eco-friendly (we have recently begun adding Toyota Prius Hybrids to our ever growing fleet). If you want a Mustang I here that Enterprise has great daily and weekend rates (or did I mean Zipcar; its hard to tell sometimes).

    In the end, it is your choice what car sharing program you choose to do business with here in Chicago. Just remember that when you do business with I-GO and you need to speak to someone about a problem you’re calling a 773 number and getting one of 8 I-GO full time staffers who are all from Chicago and have an intimate knowledge of Chicago and car sharing. When you call Zipcar I’m still not sure who you’re getting (I think its a customer service specialist somewhere in Boston or maybe Wyoming).

    I encourage you to stop by our office in the Center For Neighborhood Technology’s Platinum rated building here in Wicker Park and talk to me, or Sharon, or Francae, or Larry, or Andres, or Melissa……

    Best regards, Richard

  8. All the Zipcars in the parking lot across the street from my building are Scion Xb’s and Mini Coopers. Kinda cool. There are already enough Civics on the road. If I wanted to rent a toaster, I’d go down to Enterprise and get a nice Chevy Cobalt.

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