Timed Travel

Ever been to a city with those loaner bicycles? What if a company rented automobiles that way?

What: Rent cars by the hour
Who: Robin Chase of Zipcar
Where: Cambridge, Massachusetts
When: Started in 2000
Wallet: Projected $1.5 million sales for 2001

A man looks around a parking lot, spots a green Volkswagen Bug, walks up to it and magically unlocks the door by placing a special card on the windshield. He slips in, and off he goes.

A high-tech car thief? No, just a Zipcar customer.

Robin Chase, 42, co-founded the car-sharing company in January 2000 and rolled out its unique member-based service six months later. Since then, the company's taken the Boston area by storm. It's no wonder: Members can use their rented cars for as long as they want-even if it's just an hour-as long as they return them to designated spots by the time indicated on their reservations. They can charge gas on their handy gas card (billed directly to Zipcar) and don't have to worry about insurance (it's taken care of with a refundable insurance security deposit).

"The only real criteria [for a potentially successful market] is that customers live in a densely populated area and don't need a car every day," Chase says.

Customers pay a $25 application fee and a $75 annual fee to become members. Once they're signed up, rates are $4.50 an hour and 40 cents a mile to use cars from a fleet that consists of Volkswagen Beetles, Golf Hatchbacks, Jettas and Passat Wagons.

Members can reserve the vehicles of their choice online as much as two months in advance. The most frequent time users reserve cars for is two to four hours. Zipcar charges all fees to the member's
credit card at the end of each month.

The company's fan base is growing every day-600 members and 35 cars so far-and, at press time, Chase planned to open Zipcar in Washington, DC, by late spring.

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This article was originally published in the June 2001 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Timed Travel.

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