Wednesday, May 13, 2009

How Best to Live the Multi-Modal Life?

Every blog post deserves a picture, even if it's not so germane to the content of the post.

As I often report in this space, I live a multi-modal life: Trains, bummed rides, bicycle, etc. Since the demise of my car, I have managed to make this work fairly well, but sometimes I have to rent a car, since one of my co-workers very selfishly had a baby and took maternity leave, forcing me to handle her Hartford cases in addition to my Bridgeport and New Haven cases. Sometimes, I just have to get from one place to another more quickly than the sporadic and frequently late Amtrak train can get me there.

Sometimes, car rental is a dream, because it can be had for $14/day on priceline. But sometimes, like today, the only cars anywhere are $40/day. That's a drag, but I do get reimbursed for mileage, so I don't end up coming out of pocket for that much, and since I only rent a car, at most, once a week, it's cheaper than insurance + maintenance + the cost of getting a car.

But here's the rub about car rental: The few rental places near me in West Hartford and Hartford only sometimes have the cheapest prices. Oftener, I must go to the airport (which is a nice bike ride, but not the most convenient) or to some other location, like today, when I rented a car from a place on the Berlin Turnpike in Newington. Also, aside from the airport locations, most car rental places open at 8:30 and close by 5:30, which makes it nearly impossible for me to get to Bridgeport by 9:00 or get the car the night before I need it.

All of which makes this nation turn its lonely eyes to Zipcar. Zipcar, you may have heard, is the service where for $50 a year, you get access to some cars in your area (provided you live near, say, Trinity, which I do) whenever they're available, at an hourly rate. On the positive side, it seems like you can pretty much pick up a zipcar whenever, 'cause you make a reservation online and then use some kind of crazy space-age technology to swipe a card and get the car, so on those occasions when I miss the train or miss my ride or suddenly find that I have to get to Middletown with a quickness to collect a vomiting child, I could just go. On the down side, it's $8 an hour or $65 a day, which is, you know, more than $40, even though gas is included.

So the question is, should I spring for the $25 application fee and $50 yearly membership? It would be nice to have access to cars on short notice, even at a slightly premium rate. But maybe if I'm dropping $65 a week, I should just bite the bullet and get a car (or move to a utopian, car-free German suburb).

What say you, beat bike blog reader? Zipcar? Rental car? Car car? I always make my most important financial and life decisions on the basis of what the internet tells me (even though investing my 401k money in penis enlargement pills didn't pay off).

P.S.: Dear Zipcar, if you want to give me some kind of sweet reduced price deal so I can sing your praises on this blog (a la Xootr), holler at me. I ain't proud.


Brenda said...

When I was in Boston, Zipcar was a fantastic option because if I needed it last minute, there was always a car available within a few blocks. I'm not sure how it is in Hartford but in New Haven, there are not enough Zipcars around. I renewed my membership last year and have only used the car once because I can never get a car last minute. I have to plan a couple of days in advance which, kind of defeats the purpose (for my needs, anyway).

See how many cars are available and how often they're available before spending any money.

Murbike said...

I second Brenda's comments.

How many ZipCars are there around here?

I would stick with renting for the reasons you mentioned. When you rent, you're only paying when you need too, and if you buy a car, you're still paying when the car sits idle, which sounds like it will most of the time.

El Presidente de China said...

Yeah, I should have added: Has anyone used Zipcar at Trinity? Because that's where I'd be using it. I couldn't find any hints from the internets about whether the cars there tend to be available or not.

kanishka said...

i used zipcar in less plentiful area (northampton) and it was awesome. the price is still well worth it. i find with rental agencies, since its more of an us vs you sale mentality, you have to waste all this time on paper work, paying for insurance, checking in the car, etc etc.

zipcar is no hassles, quick, f'n awesome. as for availability, from my 3 attempts this year aroudn hartford, it is a little hard to get last minute. book 3-5 days in advance during college school year.

don't forget to factor in cost of insurance when comparing zipcar cost versus rental agency.

oh i forgot to mention, i'm in this tiny world of folders with you. i own a brompton, for one week now. totally realizing my multimodal potential now, from the previously road bike on front of bus deal.

penis enlargement said...

How many ZipCars are there around here? About 32400