Hot on the heels of an acquisition by Avis announced earlier this week, Zipcar will be piloting a no-fee membership option beginning today in Toronto and Vancouver. The new ‘Access Plan’ pilot project carries no annual driving fee, like its existing ‘Extra Value’ membership plan, but doesn’t require the Extra Value plan’s minimum of $50 in driving per month. As a trade-off, it also offers the same hourly and daily rates available in the ‘Everything’ plan, but without the $65 annual membership fee.
The twist with the new Access Plan is that members are restricted in terms of when they can rent Zipcar vehicles: Cars are only available Monday through Friday, and not on weekends. It’s a shrewd move from Zipcar, should it actually entice new members, because it addresses those times when their supply is highest and demand is lowest, as Zipcars, especially in Toronto where I live, are hardest to come by during weekends and holidays when members book them for day trips or multi-day getaways.
The problem, of course, is that weekdays are an area of low demand for good reason, which is likely the entire thinking behind introducing the new plan to begin with. There’s the fact that Toronto and Vancouver have fairly good public transit networks in place already, which are ultimately cheaper and less frustrating than renting a Zipcar and dealing with traffic for most daily commute needs. And there’s been a new entrant in the car sharing space in those markets recently, as European Zipcar competitor car2go has landed in both cities.
Car2go offers a much better option for weekday in-city driving, because it allows for one-way trips, and doesn’t require that vehicles be reserved in advance. Commuters can grab a car2go (all of which are Smart cars) at their building or home, drive it to work and drop it off at any public parking lot, and only be charged for the time spent actually driving. Then for their return trip, they can grab another, take transit, catch a ride with someone else, etc., without having to worry about getting the vehicle back to its point of origin.
A no-fee option that doesn’t require a monthly commitment is a nice addition to Zipcar’s membership options, and one that’s also clearly designed to attract users flirting with the idea of the service but unwilling to make a firm commitment. However, because of the change in the car-sharing scene in the markets where it’s launching in the past year, I’m still a little skeptical about how much of a difference it will make on Zipcar’s ultimate membership rates.