Zipcar’s merger with Flexcar isn’t going very well in Seattle where the company’s brilliant first step has been to piss off most of their new customers by unexpectedly denying them access to cars during the long weekend. [The Stranger] (Thanks, denali!)

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  1. ptkdude says:

    The merger isn’t going well in Atlanta, either. They raised my annual fee from $35 to $50, and raised the hourly rates for the cars. To add to that, twice I have reserved a car and it wasn’t there at the start of my reservation.

  2. Dorgon says:

    Oh oh. I do NOT want trouble in paradise. I am an avid Zipcar user, and I love it!

  3. Yogambo says:

    Well, it hasn’t been all bad. They did award me a $25 ‘welcome’ credit, despite the increases mentioned when I did the transisition. Then, they did one better:

    When hugely delayed by an icestorm in Metro DC that required me to extend my reservation by 3 hours, they graciously refunded that three hour delay ~ about $36!

    I do think the cost of use is on the high side, but such classy, professional service — taken care of with one email — suggests a good company at heart. Perhaps a case of ‘get what you pay for.’ Card worked fine too BTW (Old Flexcard transitioned to new Zipcard had me concerned but all went fine.).

  4. ptkdude says:

    @Yogambo: FlexCar had outstanding customer service, even with the lower rates.

  5. Fancy Pants says:

    @Yogambo: I definitely did not get classy or professional customer service when I called Zipcar on Saturday to find out why I couldn’t reserve a car. The CSR told me that he wasn’t allowed to say that there were no cars available, but if I were to make the statement, he could affirm it. I wrote an email to Zipcar about their evasive customer service and the response I got this morning was simply a list of three cars that were now available in my neighborhood.

  6. Yogambo says:

    Well, I’m sure this’ll prove to be a case where the adage YMMV proves especially true. I did deal with Flex a few times and they did have good customer service. But this Zip refund, due to what was really an act of God, was not entirely expected on my part. So it left a good taste in my mouth. Not sure how long that taste will last, though. $11/hour is steep.

  7. mattatwork says:

    I’m in Portland (OR), and we were transitioned from FlexCars to ZipCars a few weeks ago. One issue for me is that you can no longer make 30 minute reservations, as you could with FlexCar. ZipCar requires a minimum one hour reservation (though above that hour, you can still reserve in 30 minute increments). I used to grab a truck for 30 minutes to pick up new furniture – Why should I pay extra, especially when I’m sure other people want to use it for that other half hour? (The truck is one of the most in-demand vehicles in my neighborhood during the weekends.)

  8. Techguy1138 says:

    I don’t get the business model.

    I don’t own a car but I rent one as I need it. Hertz and Enterprise cost 12-15$ on weekends and $30-40 a day.At $10 an hour I get 24 hours for the cost of a single shopping trip.

    How do these companies attract customers? What makes them better than a rental?

  9. sophistiKate says:

    @Techguy1138: That’s what I’ve been wondering about ZipCar, too. They sounded really wonderful to me when I first heard of them, but it seems like they are only economical if you frequently need a car for a very short amount of time. Otherwise, traditional rentals are a far better deal.

  10. tizod says:

    @Techguy
    Guess it depends on where you live because you would never find a rental car for that rate in NYC. Hence why I am a Zipcar member.

  11. LoveNoelG says:

    @Techguy1138: It depends where you live. If you are in downtown DC, getting to a Hertz location is a bitch-the one in Union St. is an absolute nightmare. And it sure as hell isn’t $12-15 in a major urban area.

    Zipcar is a major convenience if you are in a big city.

  12. mattatwork says:

    Techguy1138:

    Several reasons:
    - You’re not considering the full cost of a rental. ZipCar covers gas and insurance. (I know that most credit cards provide limited coverage for car rentals.) In fact, that $9/hour covers pretty much everything. No hidden fees – Is that $12-$15 fully loaded?
    - For those of us under 25, we’d get hit with a $25/day fee (occasionally $10/day) for being young.
    - Convenience – There are about a dozen ZipCars parked within 4 blocks of my house. I don’t need to pick them up during business hours. And it takes me 5 seconds to pick up my car (just flash the card over the transmitter) instead of having to fill out paperwork.

    If I was leaving town for the weekend, I’d probably rent a car. But for occasional driving around town, ZipCar is better by a longshot.

  13. spinachdip says:

    @LoveNoelG: Ditto to that. For one thing, there’s a Zipcar parked across the street from my building. And whatever rates Hertz and Avis advertise, that’s before all the fees and gas and insurance they’ll try to upsell, whereas Zipcar rates include gas and insurance.

  14. Fancy Pants says:

    @Techguy1138: When we want a car for a whole day on the weekend, we rent one. The Dollar near our apartment has “in-city” specials for $15 a day.

    Car sharing is a huge convenience if you don’t have a car and don’t need a car for a whole day. For example, if I have a doctor’s appointment, I can get a Flexcar (sigh, Zipcar) for $10 an hour. There are 6 cars within 3 blocks of my office building. If I were to rent a car for a day, I would have to arrange to pick it up and drop it off at an inconvenient location, then I would have to drive to work and pay to park, and I would have to fill the tank. Weekday cars at the nearest rental place are usually $40 a day, whereas the Flexcar is $10 an hour. Add in parking and gas and it’s at least $40 more to rent.

  15. ppiddyp says:

    I used to work for Zipcar back when it was a tiny 15 person startup with 40-odd cars in Boston in ’01.

    I’m shocked by the customer service complaints. When I was there, the overnight customer service rotated among the employees and we were free to do whatever we could for customers.

    Any problem that’s our fault? Take a cab where you’re going and we’ll pay for it. Dead battery? I’ll ride my bike over and jump start the car. Filled our Civic up with diesel? We won’t charge you the $3000 it cost to get if fixed. Drunk in the middle of I-90 with a blow up doll and a bottle of whiskey in the seat next to you? We’ll come rescue you. That sort of thing.

    There was totally a nice lovey vibe for the company and we got cut a lot of slack for the imperfect system. I guess they’ve changed their customer service methods. Hopefully it’s just growing pains, because they really were nice, lefty hippie Cambridge peeps.

  16. Fancy Pants says:

    @Fancy Pants: Another non-classy customer service problem I am having with Zipcar now: I replied to their email and am now getting automatically generated delivery failures every 5 minutes. Apparently the system that forwards emails to CSRs is sending them to people who don’t exist, over and over again. But at least I know my ticket is still open!

  17. Yogambo says:

    I think that’s key: there’s no human interaction. You reserve online, arrive and go, no bullshit. The rental car (Enterprise, et al.) are daunting enough that Consumerist puts up cheat sheets for their use. This, in its perfect form, is easy, convenient and adds that ‘enviro’ labeling all the kids dig.

    With Flex and now Zip, you cut out any of that. When a human is engaged with either, that’s where the mileage varies. I’ve had good luck with both; others, not so much.

  18. Jabes says:

    I am so glad that I-Go in Chicago decided to break its connection with Flexcar when the merger happened, rather than getting caught up in the Zipcar mess. When I was researching which service to join a couple years ago, I heard such bad things about Zipcar’s customer service, and they had higher rates, too.

    For those wondering why to use car-sharing rather than rental, besides the gas and insurance issues already mentioned, you can get the car for only a few hours if that’s all you need, rather than having to pay for an entire day’s rental.

  19. MercuryPDX says:

    @tizod: NYC is a city where you don’t NEED a car. I used to commute with public transportation from Nassau County into Manhattan every day. Out here (Portland, OR Metro Area) if you don’t have a car and live in the burbs, you are screwed.

  20. MercuryPDX says:

    @MercuryPDX: EDIT: meant as day to day getting around and chores… not moving furniture you can’t or won’t have delivered.

  21. phanie says:

    Wow, I’ve had Zipcar for 3 years now and have never had a customer service problem. Someone didn’t return the car on time for my reservation, I got upgraded and paid the same rate plus got an extra hour of drive time free. I lost my Zipcard during a reservation, they walked me through getting my new one. My reservation got changed to another car because someone got into an accident, they called and emailed me. I love ‘em. I hope they don’t go downhill now.

  22. algormortis says:

    Zipcar has raised our rates, messed up the reservations system, and, of course, they seem to be moving jobs out of Seattle.

    Good work.
    I’d like to be able to reserve a car now.
    Of course it’s $1-2 more an hour and you don’t offer any of the cool things like Frequent Flexer here, but, hey, details. It shouldn’t be on offer in San Francisco (hint: more spendy) and Portland, but not in Seattle.

  23. adambadam says:

    Here in LA (USC) they have switched over all the Flexcars to ZipCars, however, they have taken about half of the old FlexCars off the scene and do not have the maps on the Web site corresponding to the actual locations of the cars. Needless to say I am unimpressed.

    It also irks me that you cannot release your time like Flexcar use to let you do. I don’t see how this hurts ZipCar as they are getting paid one way or another. I always see the cars sitting there for hour on end reserved and I figure someone could have benefitted if they had release the extra time.

  24. RumorsDaily says:

    I canceled my Flexcar account because of the merger. They raised the annual fee, they raised the per hour rates, they removed my closest car and they reduced the total number of cars in the city. It sucked. Boo.

  25. Dorgon says:

    Would you believe I just got this email?

    Dear Dorgon,

    Zipcar has always been committed to providing our members with the best variety of vehicles, in the most convenient locations possible, at a great value. And since opening shop in San Francisco, we’ve worked hard to deliver on those promises. However, fuel and parking costs have increased significantly in the last year and a half, and we need to adjust our pricing to cover those higher costs.

    Starting at midnight on March 8th, you’ll see a change in our hourly and daily rates. We’ve tried to minimize the increase wherever possible, and the most noticeable change will be in the cars with the highest operational cost.

    All reservations will still come with free gas, plus our new upgraded insurance plan ($300,000 in coverage per incident) and 180 miles per day.

    Now is a great time to make sure you’re on the membership plan that works best for you. If you drive once or twice every month, moving to an Extra Value Plan (EVP) could save you money. EVPs have a monthly commitment, starting as low as $50, but you can save 10% or more on all your driving. To check out the different extra value plans, go to your settings & preferences at http://www.zipcar.com/members/account and click “change membership plan.”

    Our members have always been supportive of Zipcar, and we truly appreciate that. Please feel free to contact me directly with any questions.

    Thank you,

    Genevieve Jopanda
    General Manager, San Francisco
    gjopanda@zipcar.com

  26. atrixe says:

    This just makes me love PhillyCarShare [www.phillycarshare.com] even more. Their prices are good, the reservations site is easy to use and their employees are super-friendly and helpful. I have nothing but good things to say about them.

    Oh, and their insurance policy covers drivers for up to $1 million.

  27. brendanb says:

    The reason we have antitrust laws is so that what is happening with a business like flexcar/zipcar are prevented. After acquiring flexcar, zipcar charges 20 percent more and has almost double the fees. A new entrepreneur needs to enter the market especially in Washington DC. Simple economics will allow zipcar to gouge new customers from flexcar in the short term.

  28. angostura says:

    Luckily most big North American cities have large, established, high-tech, community-conscious, non-corporate Carsharing organizations. In many cases, Zip isn’t your only choice — San Francisco, Oakland, Vancouver, Toronto, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Minneapolis… there’s a big list over at carsharing dot net.

  29. tredecimal says:

    and apparently they can’t process credit cards in Seattle either. I just got off a second call with Zipcar that confirmed as much. The first, however, was much more ludicrous:

    Me: I’d like to register this debit card for a Zipcar account, but your system says the billing address is wrong. I just called my bank and confirmed it’s right.

    Droid: Do you have another card you can use?

    Me: I do, but I’d rather not, because I don’t really keep any money in it.

    Droid: Well, that’s the one I’d use. Why don’t you use that one?

    Me: …nevermind, I lied, I don’t have another card. Let’s fix the problem with the one I’m going to use.

    Droid: Can I put you on hold?

    Me: Sure.

    (2 min)

    Droid: Sir? You know what I would do?

    Me: What’s that?

    Droid: Open another bank account.