Your roommate shells out $7,200 a year for her car. You pick up groceries, cruise to the beach and catch a movie at the drive-in for a daily $72 fee, then return the car you’ve reserved online to it’s parking spot on campus. You don’t own a car; you share one with other Zipcar members.

Zipcar, the world’s largest car-sharing service, arrived at Cal Poly on Oct. 22, parking four self-service cars in two lots on campus for faculty, staff and students 18 and older to rent. The two Toyota Priuses and two Scion XBs are available all the time, thus eliminating the need for personal cars.

As Cal Poly’s commuter and access coordinator for the University Police Department, Susan Rains helps students, faculty, staff and visitors use alternative transportation like the bus system, bike paths, Amtrak and carpools. Rains said she’s been working on getting a car sharing service on campus for four years.

Rains researched how it would work here and if they would be willing to come here because it wasn’t common at universities at the time, she said.

“Originally I was at a conference and learned about car sharing and thought it would be a great fit for our campus, because at the time the parking lots were overfull, and it was very busy and we were trying to get people into alternative moves of transportation and giving them incentives to do that,” she said.

She plans to use the Zipcars and hopes other people try them out, she said.

“I think once they get used to it, they would really like it. It’s very user friendly,” she said.

Cal Poly chose Zipcar because the University of California (UC) system signed a contract in June 2009 that California State Universities (CSU) could opt to join. There are cars at three CSU and near or on all but one of the 10 UC campuses. Zipcar was also more affordable than the other car sharing service in San Luis Obispo, FunRide, which opened this summer, Rains said. Cal Poly is among the 140 college campuses that have partnered with Zipcar; others include MIT, Columbia, Georgetown, American University and Harvard University.

About 20 people signed up in the first couple of days since ZipCar came to campus, but Rains expects more as word gets out via ads in the Mustang Daily, e-mails to on-campus residents, a parent newsletter and an open forum in November.

John Williams of Scoville Public Relations said they’ve been pleased with the performance of Zipcar across the country.

While there are only four cars available now, they’ll add cars as membership increases, he said.

Rains said as they expand, they plan to have Zipcars parked at the residence halls on campus.

“My hope would be to hopefully have eight to 10 vehicles on campus,” she said.

With the average American spending around $600 a month on a car, using Zipcar means saving money, Williams said.

The Zipcar membership costs $35 per year, and members can drive for $8 per hour or $66 per day on weekdays and $9 per hour or $72 per day on weekends. Students, faculty and staff also get $35 in free driving credit, approximately 180 miles, as part of a launch promotion. Members 21 and over can also access more than 5,500 Zipcars throughout 26 North American states and the U.K. Gas, maintenance, comprehensive insurance and reserved parking are included in hourly and daily rates. Drivers are fined if they come back late and someone had reserved the car. Depending on who is at fault in a collision, drivers may have to pay a deductible, but Zipcar’s insurance will handle the rest.

Prospective members over age 21 need to have a valid driver’s license and been licensed for at least one year, have had no more than two incidents (moving violations and accidents) in the past three years and no more than one incident in the past 18 months, have had no major violations in the past three years and have had no alcohol violations in the past seven years. Adults ages 18 to 20 need to have had a valid driver’s license for at least one year and have no incidents on their driving record.

After applying online, members receive their Zipcards, which allow them to reserve cars online or via phone. Once someone has a reserved a car, they hold their Zipcard up to the windshield and the car opens. The key is inside.

Williams said the philosophy they use when selecting the cars is “good, clean fun.” They choose reliable, solid cars that have a high fuel efficiency rating and are fun to drive, he said.

The Zipcars support Cal Poly’s commitment to sustainability by allowing members to rent cars instead of bringing their own, Rains said. The cars are also either hybrids or get really good gas mileage. Each Zipcar replaces 14 personally-owned vehicles, so Cal Poly’s four Zipcars can reduce the need for about 56 parking spaces, according to a Zipcar press release.

Construction management freshman Matt Ohlund said he’d use the service because he doesn’t have his car here. He also doesn’t know of many freshmen who do.

There have been days when he and his friends have wanted to do something but couldn’t because they don’t have access to a car, he said.

“One of my friends suggested we go to the drive-in and I had to break the news,” he said.

In addition to students who don’t have a car in the area, Cal Poly faculty and staff can use the Zipcars for work-related and personal use, Rains said. Cal Poly no longer has fleet vehicles to rent to departments, but departments can sign up for free and then pay the fees so staff, faculty and students can run business errands. Staff or faculty who commute, bike or take the bus to campus can also use the cars for personal errands if they sign up for their own membership.

“If they have to go to a doctor’s appointment or errands, they will have a way to do that,” Rains said.

San Luis Obispo residents 21 and older can also join for $75 (a $25 one-time application fee and a $50 annual fee).

Whether it be to save money, save the planet, impress someone or get rid of the hassle of maintaining a car, Zipcars are available at Cal Poly and across the U.S. Prospective members can apply online through Cal Poly’s Zipcar Web page at

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1 Comment

  1. I love Zipcar! Up until now, I’ve mainly used Zipcar when I travel. Now that they’ve come to Cal Poly, I think I’ll be using them a lot more. The whole process of reserving a Zipcar is really quite simple. One thing that wasn’t mentioned in the article is that gas is included, which I think makes the rates even more reasonable. One suggestion I have for Zipcar is to put a Mini Cooper convertible on campus! This is the central coast, the weather is fantastic and a convertible would do well here.

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