One of the things I enjoy most upon returning to school in the fall is noticing and appreciating all of the things on campus that have changed during the summer. Longer hours at the dining hall, a new BME/Optics building that is much closer to completion, and some recently renovated classrooms were some of the highlights. The thing that I am most excited about, however, is a new, very cool partnership that our school has begun with a company called Zipcar.
I say that it's very cool because as of right now it is only available in about ten cities -- cities like Boston, Chapel Hill, San Francisco, NYC, Providence, and Washington DC. Also, there are only a limited number of universities with Zipcars on campus, and even fewer with special student discount programs. In partnering with Zipcar, University of Rochester joins the ranks of schools such as Harvard, Brown, BU, Princeton, Columbia, Northeastern, and Georgetown. I did an informal survey of the terms and conditions of the programs at these schools, and found that not only did Rochester have some of the lowest hourly and daily rates, but we are a rarity in that any student here who is older than 19 can sign up for Zipcar. At almost all of the other schools the requirement is that students must be 21+ to register.
This is very exciting for Rochester, as it is a sign that administrators here are looking for creative and innovative ways to make student life better. The school newspaper, the Campus Times, wrote an article about how many of the school administrators spent a lot of time this summer working on bringing Zipcar to campus. Having a car-sharing program is not only a useful tool for current students, but a great selling point for the school, as it helps to differentiate us from other schools, while at the same time putting us in a class of peer institutions that we want to be favorably compared with (such as the Ivy League schools).
Zipcar is really inexpensive. For students at Rochester, it is only $30 per year to sign up. Rates for driving are simple: it's $7 per hour, and $60 per day, up to a max of 125 miles. Each mile after that costs an additional 35 cents. Gas is included, as is insurance and, of course, reserved parking at the school. The Zipcars here are only a thirty second walk from my dorm and without a doubt much closer than even the closest student parking available. The benefits also include free XM satellite radio, and a fleet of brand-new, sleek cars that all look like they would be fun to drive: a Toyota Prius, a Toyota Matrix, a Mazda 3, and a Honda Element (well, maybe the Element is not so sleek).
To emphasize how inexpensive Zipcar really is, I thought I would do a comparison of what it would cost me to bring my own car to school, and see how much I would have to drive the Zipcar to make it worth it to have my own car. At home, I paid about $600 for insurance twice a year, and my parents paid a little more on top of that. So I'll estimate the insurance for 9 months of school at $1000, even though it would most likely be higher because I'm pretty sure that insurance goes up when you don't live at home. Parking for students for a year at the University is $336. I'll estimate gas consumption at two tanks a month for a 12-gallon tank. With current gas prices at around $2.75 a gallon, that is $66 a month for gas. The nine month total works out to be $1930. That is a lot to pay for the convenience of having your own car - a conveniece that is certainly lessened by the fact that 6 out of 9 months here the walk to the parking lot is very cold. I would have to rent a Zipcar for about 271 hours at the hourly rate to make it more economical to have my own car on campus. With 23 credits this semester, I don't think I will have time to even get in the equivalent of more than 11 days of driving!
To get to the point of this long story, last week I signed up for Zipcar. My card has already come in the mail, and now I'm just waiting for a good time to use it. I'm not planning on taking it places that I can easily get to by bus, such as Wegman's, Barnes and Noble, or the malls on the weekends. However, there are some places that you need a car to get to - such as the IMAX theater in Tinseltown, where my friends and I saw Harry Potter last year. It's much easier and cheaper to take a Zipcar than to get a cab. Also, a few friends and I are planning to see Ben Folds at SUNY Geneseo in November - a trip that necessitates having a car. Also, you can bet I'll be at the Eastview Mall Apple Store with all the Mac users on my hall the morning that Mac OS X Leopard comes out. I'll evaluate after this year whether or not the membership has been worth it. I see the $30 annual fee almost as a donation. I want to see this program succeed and expand here. I know there are a lot of people that need cars here, but I think that there are also a lot of students that just have one for convenience. Possibly a car-sharing program would fit their needs better. I'm betting that it fits mine perfectly.