Posted by: nickgerlich | April 16, 2008

Nothing. Nada. Zip.

Americans love their cars. Texans love their trucks. So enamored are we of the open road and the freedom it brings that we have allowed ourselves to become a suburban car culture, our very lives hopelessly entangled in the web spun by the internal combustion engine that it would take a major effort to relieve our dependence on these four-wheel modes of transport. We are often faced with the need to drive just about everywhere.

In other words, the very freedom it endowed has entrapped us.

With oil topping $114 per barrel this morning, it has become increasingly expensive to drive a vehicle. And never mind the cost of ownership. Those $50,000 pickups sucking $4 diesel cost a lot ot insure, and monthly payments with interest can drain a paycheck dry.

ZipCarSo what’s a person to do?

For urbanites, the answer may be as close as the nearest parking lot. ZipCars are available in many major cities and near 70 university campuses, allowing users to share the use of a vehicle for a small fee ($50 per year plus $11 per hour). Reserve the car for a specific time slot, use it, and return it. End of conversation.

This is an idea whose time has come, although ZipCar has been around since the dotcom boom. But with the costs of owning and driving a vehicle on the rise, it makes sense for many people. If you walk, bike, or use mass transit for much of your daily life, a car is a burden. While there are times you may absolutely, positively need one, using an auto time-share is a great option, because the rest of the time you would be paying for the mere privilege of ownership.

And like all good dotcom firms, ZipCar is oh-so-savvy, allowing anyone with a web-enabled phone to reserve their ride (of course, a trusty desktop computer or laptop can be used for the “immobile”).

We have used a modified version of this ourselves. Our small fleet of personal vehicles is old, with over 800,000 miles collectively. They work just fine around town, and some are OK for interstate travel. The best part is they are all paid for, and very cheap to insure. If we need a more reliable vehicle, we just rent it for a week or two, and when we are done, it is dropped off. Sure beats having car payments and high insurance costs.

Granted, ZipCar will not work for everyone, and I sincerely doubt we will see a branch in Amarillo any time soon. But alternative means of transport are gaining traction elsewhere. The “stackable city car” and bike dispenser are very green options for city dwellers in need of a quick connection.

With ZipCar looking forward to a likely IPO, this is one survivor of the dotcom era that will cause everyone else to hit the brakes and yield right-of-way

Dr “Honk Honk” Gerlich

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