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Car sharing company expands to Missouri universities

Saturday, January 21, 2012 | 5:38 p.m. CST

KANSAS CITY — A fast-growing car-share service that lets drivers reserve cars online, pick them up at a designated spot, use them and drop them back off without ever dealing with a rental car employee has expanded to the University of Missouri-Kansas City and Rockhurst University.

Zipcar began parking two cars Tuesday at UMKC, the first university in Missouri to get the service, said John Austin, a UMKC spokesman.

The program is similar to an MU car sharing service called WeCar, which was introduced at MU  in August 2010.

The company, which started in 2000 at Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has grown to include 250 colleges and universities and 16 metropolitan areas in the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States. But until Tuesday, the closest it came to Kansas City was Chicago, The Kansas City Star reported.

If membership grows enough at UMKC and Rockhurst, the company could expand to other Kansas City locations, said Michael Serafino, Zipcar's general manager for university programs.

"There is likelihood, but I'm hesitant to say when," Serafino said. "We start at the university level, where there is some density, and try to grow out into local communities, but we need a beachhead."

Zipcar is open to people who are at least 18 years old. Members pay an initial $25 application fee and an annual fee of $50. They receive magnetic swipe cards, which give them access to vehicles, which are rented by the hour and by the day. Gas and car insurance are included in the rental fee.

The service is targeted to younger adults who are comfortable reserving cars online and handling the pickup and drop off themselves. And many conventional car rental services won't rent to drivers younger than 25.

"This service serves a smart consumer," Serafino said. "The world is changing. At the college student level, there are many reasons why owning a car on campus is a problem, and students have a sharing mindset. It's generational."

Hourly rates start at $7 on weekdays and $8 on weekends, and daily rates start at $66 on weekdays and $72 on weekends. The price varies by the type of vehicle. The rate includes 180 free miles, with additional miles charged at 45 cents. If an accident occurs, a damage fee of up to $500 may apply. And there is a penalty for late returns.

Serafino estimates that every Zipcar eliminates the need for 12 to 15 other lightly used cars. Renting rather than owning also appeals to someone on a budget, given that the AAA estimates the average cost of operating a medium-size sedan is nearly $8,600 a year.

Zipcar will be available to UMKC and Rockhurst students, faculty and staff ages 18 and older, as well as members of the community ages 21 and older. Members aged 18 to 20 can use only the cars assigned to the universities. Those 21 and older can reserve Zipcars anywhere they're offered.

The first two Zipcars are a new Toyota Prius and Ford Focus. Serafino said more cars might be added depending on the demand.

The Zipcar program works well with UMKC's transportation program, which includes bicycle sharing and free passes on city buses.

"They all tie together to create ways for students to leave their car at home," said Bob Simmons, associate vice chancellor for administration.


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