A sign hangs at a Zipcar rental car branch in Manhattan on Jan. 2 in New York City.
After Avis acquired the car-sharing company Zipcar last week, college students yawned. Services such as Zipcar are ubiquitous in many college towns and around the nation as Millennials change the way we view travel.
When Amy Verhey’s ’92 Honda Accord started to sputter, she signed up for Community Car — a car-sharing company based in Madison, Wis. — so she’d be able to go grocery shopping or visit the local farmers markets.
When Zipcar began offering its services, Verhey, a fifth-year communication arts and journalism major at the University of Wisconsin, stayed with Community Car even though her family frequently used Zipcar.
“Word on the street was it was pretty hard to get a reservation for Zipcar,” Verhey said.
She was right. For a school of some 50,000 students, the two Zipcars that served the town were something like outcasts. Community Car has 15 cars in its fleet, according to its website.
The need for reliable public transportation and car-sharing services is growing while car manufacturers struggle to cater to a generation that doesn’t value motorized transportation as a status symbol. Where Baby Boomers wanted a two-door Mustang, 20-somethings want four-door, eco-friendly cars to shuttle friends.
“There’s a social expectation that starts from the beginning,” said Annalisa Bluhm, manager of small car and Spark EV communications at Chevrolet. “A lot of it has to do with a sense of community.”
If you own a vehicle, you’ll likely be taking friends around town and students know that, Bluhm said. To prevent having to travel as much or to avoid being a taxi service themselves, some Millennials move to cities.
“The idea of having walkable places to go to and using the infrastructure around you is very appealing,” Bluhm said.
This isn’t always the case as public transportation sometimes isn’t the most viable option, even in large metropolitan areas such as Miami.
“Most students I know need their own vehicle because of the lack of shared transportation and terrible public transportation,” said Samuel Fuerst, a mechanical engineering senior at Miami Dade College.
This is where car-sharing services come into play. Zipcar has locations on more than 100 campuses nationwide, with most offering student and faculty discounts, so the option is often available for those who find themselves in need of a car. However, not everyone is happy with what they’ve experienced in the past.
For Kevin Spellman, a sophomore drama major at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the public transportation in his area is great. But even as a Zipcar member, he’s unhappy with what Zipcar had to offer in the past.
Spellman’s major complaint about Zipcar is that after fees and service charges, the company’s offering couldn’t compete with pre-established services in the city and on campus.
“It would literally be cheaper and easier to take a taxi most times,” he said in an email. “Not to mention that most of my friends have cars.”
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