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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.

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.

My Bio | My Conversion | My Family Reunion


16 replies

  1. I have car, one fully depreciated four door four banger, but since I take the train who cares. If the environment really mattered to IGO all their cars would be manual transmissions rather than the slushboxes they have now. Additionally they would not use hybrid gimic technology but the cheapest civics they could find rather than overpaying for the premium cachet of “hybrid” to Toyota. I do however love the Elements and Scions since I am tall and these “fit” better. Also I like to use igo and zipcar to test out models I am thinking of replacing my city car with. I would really like to igo or zipcar with a Dodge Sprinter or Chevy Silverado 6 cylinder since efficiency is pointless if there is no suitable vehicle for the job. On a fuel consumption per passenger mile basis a full ten seat sprinter or full three seat silverado beats a hybrid with one person anyday.

  2. I love, love, love I-Go. Both Zipcars and I-Go are in my neighborhood (actually in some of the same parking lots!), but I won’t switch. I-Go costs less, has the potential to cost even less, is absurdly convenient for me, and I like the fact that they’re committed to hybrids.

    On the practical side, as Jake pointed out, I-Go’s standard plus plan is a great deal and the price recently dropped to 8.25 (since I-Go’s a non-profit, any extra $$ leads to lower prices — I’m down with that).

    As for the pretty Zipcars: more cars, more costs in maintenance. I-Go can stock multiple spare parts (belts, tires, etc) for their cars, as they’re pretty uniform. Zipcars is going to cost more because it’s got more maintenance costs.

    Hey, I like pretty cars too: I’m a reformed car nut who got rid of her beloved Saab because I wasn’t willing to pay for a parking spot in Boystown. But pretty cars are going to cost more and when I need a car now, I need transport, not pretty. (Although I do sometimes wonder who was smoking what when the decision was made to go with Honda Elements — talk about some serious ugly!)

    Still, if I really want pretty, I’ll call up Hertz and nab a Jag.

    I also find it interesting you’ve had such problems with the smart card — I’ve never had such problems unless the previous driver forgot to swipe out. Usually it’s just swipe, hop in, nab the keys and go.

    Actually, any problems I’ve had stem from other users, not from I-Go themselves. (Cars arriving late, failure to swipe out, etc.) But I figure that’s going to happen no matter which car-sharing program I join.

    To each his/her own.

  3. The trip to IKEA would actually be cheaper with I-GO. I-GO has two pricing plans that you can switch between at any time. The standard plus plan is $8.25/hour with 25 free miles for each hour reserved. If you used the standard plus plan, the trip cost would ($8.25/hr)*4hr=$33. When you take into account both pricing plans, I-GO comes out cheaper in practically every situation. In addition, I-GO has parking spaces (look on the right side of newsletter) for members near the IKEA exit.

    Zipcar’s cheapest price is $9.00/hr, but a lot of their cars cost $10/hr (including their Honda Elements) and some cost as much as $12.00/hr.

    I think I-GO needs to do a better job advertising their pricing plans. You can use both price plans and I-GO’s discounted cars (also on the right side) to get a much better deal than Zipcar.

  4. Paperwork or no, it doesn’t change the fact that for a casual user igo is going to cost more than zipcar. Say for the cheapest car a standard trip to IKEA from south loop and back (30 miles each way), and 4 hours of time (traffic is always a factor). igo would cost $6/hr ($6*4=$24) + 60 miles (60*$.50=$30) = $54 total.

    zip car would be $9/hr ($9×4=$36) and miles are included, so $36 total (54-36 = zipcar is cheaper). So for me, not wanting to get locked into a monthly usage plan, it’s cheaper to use zipcar. And I’m not going to pay a monthly plan because sometimes I’ll be driving over 300 miles and I’ll just go to National Rent-a-car and be done with it.

  5. Sharon’s description of I-GO’s mission sounds good, but that other I-GO staffer’s mocking tone and complaining about Mustangs comes off as puerile.

    Driving an LEV out of a sense of guilt is hardly appealing. If car sharing isn’t fun, I’m not going to do it. Mike’s comments are spot on; I-GO needs to appeal beyond the granola set if they’re going to succeed.

    I just moved to Chicago a few months ago. Girlfriend got rid of her car, and has been doing a lot of research on car sharing lately, so it’s been on the brain. (My car is new enough that I’m still paying it off. If it were nearer the end of the loan, and I were still living in the city, car sharing would probably be what I’d do, too.)

  6. Sharon, thanks for the detailed comment. As I’ve said before, I think a diversity of vehicle choices would represent an improvement in the I-GO service and is necessary in the Chicago market to compete successfully with Zipcar.

    By definition, any car-sharing service is a boon to the environment. Ignoring driver desires for certain signature vehicles because they’re not as “green” as others is gilding the lily.

    It’s also probably not the wisest way to compete with a for-profit company. The environment, a greater presence in more Chicago neighborhoods, and the crunchy granola goodness of being a nonprofit may serve you well now. But Zipcar will continue to expand throughout the city, and as it does, there will undoubtedly be other potential customers turned away by your self-imposed limitations as Devyn and I were.

    I hope that doesn’t come to pass. I think there’s room in Chicago for both car-sharing outfits. But I-GO needs to be careful here. If Zipcar and its for-profit wiles eat away at I-GO’s market share in key (read: yuppie) neighborhoods, I-GO may end up being the de facto car-sharing service of Chicago’s least-attractive neighborhoods, and nothing more. I-GO may want to consider letting its politics take a back seat in order to consider squarely the desires of its (and Zipcar’s) potential customers.

    As for the paper books, you ought to consider either specifying in your member materials why they’re still there in the glove compartments, or getting rid of them entirely. At the moment, they’re just a cause of confusion.

  7. Hello Mike and other Car Share members,
    We are delighted that there is growing interest in car sharing. I-GO Car Sharing’s mission is to reduce the overall rates of car ownership in our region by providing a real alternative that includes excellent customer service, great cars, convenient locations and the lowest rates. I just wanted to let you know that I-GO’s system is entirely automated and there is no reason to fill out a trip ticket. The only reason we keep a log book in the glove compartment is so members can write us notes (we appreciate hearing your comments and suggestions). When I-GO was first started as a pilot program four years ago, we used trip tickets but we installed the technology and stopped using them over two and a half years ago. As to our fleet, we have Honda Civics, Honda Hybrids, Toyota Prius’s, Elements, and Scions. We are committed to having only low emission vehicles and if you have suggestions for other types of low-emission vehicles, we would be happy to consider them. We are also dedicated to serving all neighborhoods and have much greater coverage of Chicago than our competitor. We have 85 cars today and by the end of October, we will have 100. We are a Chicago company and you can call us 24/7 and we are happy to talk with you. We also have great member events. Watch our website for parties and the growing list of businesses who provide discounts to I-GO members.

  8. Polkster, Cheryl, and gang, according to a call to I-GO late today, they did change to an all-automatic data recording system. However, they never really publicized the fact, and decided just to leave the old receipt books in the cars. I suppose just for the hell of it?

    Cheryl, hey now. Nondrivers preferring to be in classier cars is no different than not wanting to be seen in certain neighborhoods, or seen with certain people, (or seen eating an entire container of Ben & Jerry’s by yourself). We all have our standards 😉

  9. I don’t think you’re technically required to fill out the paperwork. It’s more for your own records. I personally like to leave a paper trail to write down when my trip ended and mark where the car’s scratched, just for liability reasons.

    I don’t understand why they put some their cars in underground locations when there are viable above-ground locations closeby. It takes 5+ minutes to escape the dark maze, and as you’ve alluded to it takes 2 tries for the car to get the signal to unlock (I’ve been told it’s because it’s hard for the car to pick up the sattelite signal). And between tries that red light flashes for 90 seconds. What a waste of time.

    On the bright side they put an IGo Scion car one block from Marina City on Hubbard between State and Dearborn. Makes it so much more convenient than in the past. Maybe they did it for you Mike ;p

  10. I dunno, man. From the online tutorial:

    “Once in the car, open the glove box and find the key. Pull the key from the slot and you are ready to go. It’s that easy.”

    “The car is now yours for the duration of your drive. At any intermittent stop during your reservation, take the key with you and lock the doors with the key.”

    The only pen-and-paper thing they mention is the damage inspection.

  11. Mike,it doesn’t make any difference in our monthly statements, so I don’t see any point in doing it.

    I find it somewhat amusing that people who don’t own cars or don’t drive at all are still concerned about what cars they’re seen in. The Civics are comfy, the radios work, they’re easy to park. I did take the Element once and just hated driving it.

  12. Cheryl and Polkster: guys, check out that glovebox. You’re technically supposed to fill out the receipts you find in there. As I surmised in my post, some people just don’t bother. And if you weren’t even aware of the procedure, I have to ask how good is I-GO’s membership tutorial in the first place?

  13. Pen and paper? What are you talking about? I use I-Go and have never once been asked to write stuff down. I’ve never had a problem getting into the cars either. The only problem I’ve ever had was when I forgot which car I reserved. A simple phone call to I-Go confirmed that it was me being the idiot standing in the wrong parking lot looking at an empty space. My car for the day was parked a few blocks away.

  14. What’s all this writing down that you’re doing in the I-Go? Is that for your work accounting or something? I’ve used I-Go for a year and a half and the only time I’ve had to put pen to paper was when I filled up the tank and had to use my own money. The monthly bill arrives with all my trip times and mileage accurately recorded.

    From what I can tell (I’m the only driver on my account), the monthly accounting should break down the mileage and times per driver, so if there’s a problem here it sounds like it’s with an overly paper-reliant accountant at your work, or somebody giving you instructions who thinks you still have to do things the pre-smart-card way.

  15. Well, I suppose I have to take that back. There are two (Zipcar) cars in my neighborhood, but they are both inexplicably SUVs and I’ve never driven an SUV before, they make me a bit nervous, I’ll stick with the Civic for now.

  16. I’m not an IGO staffer, but I’m a member and you sound like you’ve gotten a bum deal because I’ve not had those problems (but then again I only use the cars about 4 times a year). I’ll certainly give you that the cars Zipcar uses are quite a bit nicer and look a lot more fun to drive, and if they were in my neighborhood (they aren’t) then I’d probably have to weigh my options. I do agree with you though, just because something is non-profit or independent does not make it inherently superior to its for profit or chain counterpart.

    I live by a since closed grocery store called Edmar’s, when it closed the sorts of people that feel that anything independent is inherently better than anything that is a chain on the sole merit of it being independent decried the store being replaced by a Dominick’s, conveniently forgetting the grey meat, beaten up produce, lack of any real selection, and food piled up on the filthy floor (aren’t there codes against that) that was part of the ‘Edmar’s experience’.

    However, the fact remains, Zipcar is not in my neighborhood, and I don’t see them coming here anytime soon and IGO two cars within walking distance of my house.

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