by Liz Rhoades, LizR@qchron.com
(Michael O’Kane) A Toyota Scion Zipcar is ready for use in a Flushing garage. Members can rent a car for an hour or more.
If you’re tired of spending money on taxis or rental cars, a new business in Flushing—Zipcar—may put you in the driver’s seat for less.
The Massachusetts based company was organized in 2000 and now offers cars in Boston, New York City, San Francisco, Minneapolis and Washington, D.C. It also partners with several colleges.
Zipcar began its Flushing service at the beginning of the year at 85 15 Main St., in the Ultra Car Park Garage and company officials say it is gaining popularity. “We have already added another vehicle there and will continue to expand in Queens,” said Zipcar Regional Vice President Julian Espiritu.
To use the service, you must join and obtain a Zipcard. Then, you can book a car at any time—if a vehicle is available—from any Zipcar location. You go to the site, hold the Zipcard to the windshield and the doors open. Use the car for as long as you’ve got it booked and return it to the original site. The car comes with a full tank of gas, insurance, and an XM radio.
There are requirements to join. You must be over 21, have a valid driver’s license for at least a year and have had no more than two moving violations and accidents in the last three years and no more than one incident in the last 18 months.
Members must also give a $100 deposit via a credit card, which is returned when you cancel. For the occasional driver, the annual fee is $50 plus a $25 application fee. Hourly rates vary depending on the type of car but start as low as $10 an hour and $69 a day.
In Flushing, the cars available include a Toyota Prius Pravda, Honda Element Eskimo, Volvo Sturtze and Toyota Scion. Each car comes equipped with a universal gas card and when the tank is down to a quarter or less, members are asked to fill it up for the next driver. The card is accepted at all major gas stations and can only be used for that vehicle.
Be warned, if you use Zipcar, there are no pets allowed, except in carriers and no smoking. There are penalties if people are found to break the rules. Espiritu explained that members treat the vehicles like their own. “They take care of them and report any abuse by the previous driver,” he said.
Cars are cleaned at least once a week and are on a regular maintenance system. “We depend highly on feedback from members,” Espiritu said. “If something goes wrong while driving, there is a hotline for 24 hour roadside assistance.”
When you call or go online to reserve a car, the service will indicate if a car is available when you want it. The company says you can reserve minutes or months ahead of time.
Espiritu calls the service, “like a time share on a vehicle,” and says it complements mass transit. “It gives people an alternative,” he added.
In New York City, where parking is at a premium and costs are high, using a Zipcar can be the way to go. The company says when Zipcars are used, there is less congestion on the roads and less strain on available parking.
According to a recent member survey, each Zipcar takes over 20 personally owned vehicles off the roads, since members either sell their cars or decide against purchasing one. In the major cities that have Zipcars, over 55,000 members share 1,500 vehicles. That amounts to nearly 20,000 cars off the streets.
The service appeals to college students, who don’t need a car on a regular basis, and city dwellers, where parking is limited. Expect to see more locations in the New York City area in the future.
Other locations in Queens for Zipcars include 47 01 Queens Blvd. in Sunnyside with seven cars and the Citylights Building in Long Island City with one car.
A new location will be opening soon in Astoria as soon as the cars arrive. Manhattan has numerous locations. As a member, you can borrow a car from any Zipcar location, but it must be returned to the original site.
For information, go to www.zipcar.com or phone (866) 497 7227.