Michael Serafino is the general manager for Zipcar University, which is providing 10 cars for the program.
“People sign up on-line, there’s actually a dedicated page for people in the University of Iowa and Iowa City area where they can go and become members,” Serafino explains. “The general rates are seven-fifty and eight-fifty and hour for people who want to drive our Zipcars.”
He says the cars provide a transportation option to students who don’t want the expense of keeping a car around all the time. “Going shopping and picking up necessities, or maybe even going on a date or things of that nature are actually very common uses. We also do have students who do take the car home for the weekend,” Serafino says.
“So if they visit home maybe once a semester or something of that nature, it can still be as cost effective, because included in each reservation within a 24-hour period are 180 miles of driving. So you have the insurance, the gas and 180 miles. So if you reserve a car for two days you actually have 360 miles of driving at no additional cost.”
The Zipcars are different from regular rental cars because you can use them in increments from one hour and then add on half-hour increments. And Serafino says they are self-serve.
“When you become a member we issue what is known as your Zipcard. And your zipcard is your electronic access to the vehicle once you make a reservation,” according Serafino. “And the keys live inside the vehicle so there is no worry of key management. Basically you make a reservation through our website, you go to the car, you scan into the car using your Zipcard and away you go.”
Iowa City Transportation Services Director, Chris O’Brien, says the cars are another transportation option. “Iowa City is one of those communities were people kind of embrace the alternative modes of transportation such as biking, walking, we have a lot of scooter and moped users,” O’Brien says. “The area itself does about six million rides in public transit between Iowa City, Cambus and Coralville transit systems. So we just felt that Zipcar was a natural fit for that sort of gap that we were missing.
Parking is often at a premium in the college towns, and O’Brien says Zipcar could help alleviate some of that problem. He says Zipcar research in several communities shows one Zipcar can replace 15 personally owned vehicles that would have been on the street or parked somewhere. “And that’s a pretty big number when we’re starting at 10 vehicles and we’re hoping that it is a successful program and we’re hoping to expand,” O’Brien says.
The program will start with six cars dedicated to campus and four more to the general Iowa City area. O’Brien says they have a three-year contract with options to renew. He says if the usage is not what they expect, they can pull back some cars, but if demand is good they can locate more pods in different locations around the city.
An Iowa State University spokesperson says the Ames school started a similar program last fall with two cars. The We-Car program charges comparable rates, and the spokesperson says 70 students have regularily used the cars since the program started.