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Zipcar takes on Uber with one-way rental service

Students check out a Honda Civic Zipcar from the University of Texas at Dallas campus in Richardson in 2012. 
Students check out a Honda Civic Zipcar from the University of Texas at Dallas campus in Richardson in 2012. 
Published May 2, 2014

NEW YORK — Zipcar markets itself as a "smarter way" to get around the city, an alternative to traditional rental car companies. But for a long time there's been something, well, dumb about the company's model: You can book only a round-trip ride. If you want to go from Point A to Point B and back to Point A again, then maybe Zipcar is for you. If you hate Point A and would never go back there again even if someone paid you $1 million, chances are Zipcar is not the smartest choice.

Zipcar has finally decided to address this flaw, announcing this week that it will offer one-way trips starting this fall. The service will roll out in September across Boston, the site of the company's headquarters and a city stocked with more than 500 Zipcar locations and 1,000 vehicles. Drivers will select their end destination when they book, guaranteeing a parking spot and taking that space off the grid for other Zipcar users.

Lindsay Wester, a spokeswoman for Zipcar, declined to comment on how the company will price its new service, Zipcar One>Way, saying those decisions are still pending. Zipcar, which is available in Florida cities including Miami and Orlando but not in the Tampa Bay area, charges $6 a month or $60 a year up front for a membership, and an additional $8 to $10 per hour for round-trip rides. Car2Go, a competing car-sharing service that does offer one-way trips, charges about 40 cents per minute or $14 per hour, depending on the city.

What's most interesting about Zipcar One>Way is that users won't be able to book trips very far in advance, with a maximum lead time of 30 minutes on reservations. Wester describes the service as for "spontaneous use." The implication is that Zipcar wants One>Way to compete with taxis and car services such as Uber that cater to last-minute transportation needs. With One>Way, Zipcar could become an alternative car rental and alternative cab service (the main difference being that Zipcar users do the driving themselves).

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