Car Sharing Appeals to Cash-Strapped Students

For 21-year-old Syracuse University senior Jaime Sasso, bringing a car to campus just isn't an option. She's from Miami, and the cost of upkeep, combined with the winter weather of upstate New York, make it too hard.

"I don't know how I would be able to keep up a car here since I've never driven in the snow before," she said. "Just the idea of having to clean snow off my car and stuff like that, I don't know if I'd want to do that."

For Sasso, car-sharing is a perfect solution. It's a transportation option that's spreading across the country and onto many college campuses. The idea is simple: You become a member of a car-sharing company and sign up to use a car whenever you need to run some errands.

Saves Money, Time

Sharing cars is cheaper than owning. Rates vary by city and campus, but students at SU pay a $35 annual fee. They are then charged $9 an hour and $65 a day to use the car. Gas, insurance and up to 180 miles are all free. Collisions are covered with a $500 deductible.

Sasso signs up online and uses her magnetic card to enter the car. Inside, she finds the key, and a gas card for filling up. From there, she's charged by the hour, or by day, depending on how long she needs the car. When she's done, she returns it to the parking spot on campus, and it's ready for the next member.

"If I want to go to Wegman's or something, now I have that option because up until now, I was just relying on friends to drive me places," she said. Sasso and her friends were even considering a trip to Washington, D.C., for the inauguration. While they decided not to go, she said it was nice knowing she could have.

While there are several smaller car-sharing companies across the country, the largest is Zipcar. The company started back in 2000 and now has more than 250,000 members worldwide.

Zipcar's current fleet comprises 26 makes and models, including Toyota Prius and Tacoma, Honda Element, BMW 3- and 5-series, Volvo S40 and the MINI Cooper.

Student Appeal

In 2002, the company started moving their services to college campuses. Zipcar began at Harvard, and is now on more than 100 campuses. The goal is to appeal to students not allowed to bring vehicles on campus, and to cut down on parking issues many schools face.

While rental companies only allow people over the age of 22 to rent, car-sharing on campuses caters to students as young as 18. And they can use cars on any campus in the country, making this option even more desirable for Sasso.

"I live in Miami and my house is very close to the University of Miami. It's just a couple of blocks," Sasso said. "So when I go home, if I was really in a bind and needed to use a car, I could just go to the University of Miami and get a Zipcar."

And she's always had a car available when she needs it, she said. Accessibility is the goal of many of these car-sharing companies.

"The beauty is that you use it like you would use your own car," said Matt Malloy, Zipcar's vice president for marketing development. "If you are an art student, then you'd use it to run and get some supplies. And if you're just wanting to get away and you're in Miami, you're going to go to the beach."

Other Options

But Zipcar isn't the only option. Hertz recently introduced a car-sharing program in the New York City area, as well as London and Paris.

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