Your college freshman-to-be is lobbying relentlessly for a car on campus this fall. You’re just as adamant that the set of wheels remain in the garage and that he learn to take the bus, bike or just walk when the need arises for a shopping trip, a haircut or weekend entertainment.
In need of a compromise? Consider car sharing programs where you can rent by the hour.
It’s an option that’s becoming increasingly popular — and competitive — around college campuses as the big-brand rental companies expand into this business..
Hourly charges typically range from $6 to $12, which includes gas, comprehensive insurance, and roadside assistance and maintenance. About the only requirements to sign up are a valid driver’s license and a credit or debit card. And unlike traditional rental programs, the driver doesn’t have to be 25 or older.
If you need a car for an out-of-town trip, rate plans typically build in 180 free miles, with additional charges for anything after that.
Another selling point: Car sharing programs help the environment by limiting driving and reducing on-campus congestion.
The hourly rental programs are most prevalent in big cities, but that’s changing.
In early June, Enterprise Rent-A-Car trumpeted plans to consolidate several of its regional hourly rental programs into a national service called Enterprise Car Share. Currently in New York, Philadelphia and Boston and on about 50 college campuses, Enterprise Car Share is expected to evolve into a mass market product. The St. Louis company has more than 5,000 neighborhood locations nationwide.
Hertz has also expanded into car sharing with Hertz on Demand, available on more than 60 college campuses, from Colorado College to Ohio State.
Hertz also hopes to equip its entire fleet for hourly rentals over the next year.
The pioneer is Zipcar. Since launching car sharing about 12 years ago, Zipcar now has more than 2,500 locations in cities (including Kansas City) and on campuses, 9,000 vehicles and about 500,000 U.S. members.
Here’s how the Zipcar car share program works: The cars are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week and are parked at a specially designated space, such as a university parking garage.
Renters, who pay a $25 one-time application fee and a $50 annual membership fee, book their reservation online and access the vehicles with a swipe card. A gas card is in the vehicle in case you need to buy fuel.
Zipcars must be returned to the same parking spot for the next user.
Check out the websites of the rental companies for specific pricing details, including weekend rates, extended travel and insurance options.
There are some drawbacks to car sharing, the biggest being availability. Some markets have just one or two cars, so spur-of-the-moment travel could be difficult.
And if you go over your allotted time, you’re charged for the extra.
Whatever service you choose, the driver had better remember to clean up the soda spills, pick up the pizza crust on the floor and otherwise deliver the car back to its home base clean and in good condition — or risk shelling out more dough.