What are the 3 Best hourly car sharing or rental programs in the New York City metropolitan area?

by Benjamin Kline - Read report

ZipCar Info
Hertz on Demand
DriveMint
CONCLUSION:
The 3 Best companies that offer by-the-hour car sharing programs in New York City are Zipcar, Hertz on Demand and DriveMint.
  • Background
  • Process
  • Comparison
  • Rate this Report
FACTS/BACKGROUND:
In the early 2000s, the concept of car sharing became more prevalent in the U.S. Companies such as Zipcar and Flexcar offered a previously unavailable hourly car rental fleet to residents of major cities. Increased public interest in the concept led to more competition in several cities. Zipcar’s 2007 acquisition of Flexcar catapulted it to the top of the heap when it came to fleet size and nationwide coverage. Around the same time, the major rental companies such Hertz and Enterprise took notice, and several began developing car sharing programs of their own.

My first review will deal solely with the 3 Best car sharing programs offered in the New York metropolitan area, as it is the U.S. city with the most widespread usage of car sharing. Subsequent reviews will deal with other cities.

Regardless of which service you choose, here are a few caveats I’ve created which will help you avoid any unforeseen issues:
#1- Plan the trip way ahead. Reserve a week early, as the signup process can take many days
#2- All NYC car rental agencies charge, in total, nearly 20% in taxes
#3- Dirty cars are apparently universal, so don’t expect them to be pristine.
#4- Plan your rental time well. Don’t be late. Call the garage an hour before your rental. Know where your garage is and how to get there. Get to the garage 10 minutes before your rental starts, and plan extra time into your reservation for the unexpected.
#5- Short trips only. Over 10 hours, or driving 180+ miles, and it would be cheaper to rent for a full day from a regular rental car company.
#6- Get the app for your phone if available.
#7- You don’t need to sign up for an “Extra Value Plan” unless you are planning on spending $50+ with them every month.
PROCESS:
I started by researching which car sharing programs were available in New York City. I then read numerous reviews of these programs by major magazines, newspapers, review sites and blogs (some are listed below). Finally, I went to each company’s website to compile data on the major factors that contribute to the overall effectiveness of each company.

Companies reviewed: Zipcar, Hertz on Demand, DriveMint, WeCar, UCarShare, Genius Ride, City Car Share, Philly Car Share, i-Go, HourCar, Car2Go.

Some of the sources I used on the internet to compile information: www.cleanfleetreport.com www.carsharing.net www.marketwire.com www.philly2hoboken.com www.yelp.com www.greenbiz.com www.jalopnik.com www.nymag.com.
COMPARISON:
 ZipCar InfoHertz on DemandDriveMint
CredibilityHigh: Established in 1999, 560,000 members and 150+ locations in the NY metro area.Good: Established 2008, infrastructure of an industry leader, 25,000 members and 90 rental locations in NY metro area.Mediocre: Established 2008, brand new company, only 6,000 members and 35 rental locations in NY metro area.
UsabilityExcellent: The most rental locations, iPhone/Adroid apps, easy to use website, the most cars to choose from.Good: Many locations, iPhone app, mediocre website & customer service, many unique features such as GPS and one-way rentals. Mediocre: Limited vehicle choices and no phone apps, renting successfully takes some advance planning.
PricingYes: The highest signup ($25) & annual fees ($50) and in many cases, the highest hourly pricing ($8.75+ per hour weekdays, $13.75+ per hour weekends).Yes: No annual fee or signup fees, average hourly pricing ($10 to $12+ per hour).Yes: Comparable annual fee ($40), some promos waive the $25 signup fee. Industry lowest hourly pricing on weekdays ($6+ per hour), but highest on weekends ($12+ per hour).
Does Product Get Results?Yes: Widely recommended, easy to use, preferred by many.Yes: Preferred by reviewers that had negative experiences with Zipcar; many excellent features and medium pricing make Hertz a close second choice.Yes: Reviewers enjoyed cheap hourly rentals, but only on weekdays during the day.
RATE THIS REPORT:
community rating: 4.5 (2 ratings)
REASONING:
In deciding the 3 Best hourly car sharing programs in NYC, I used these key considerations to focus my research: 1) Trustworthiness - How old/experienced is this company? How trusted is each car sharing company? How many members does each company have? 2) Usability - Are pickup locations widespread and convenient? Is the website/reservation system easy to use? Are the vehicles readily available and easy to operate? How easy is it to contact a rep in case of an issue or emergency? How easy is it to extend the reservation? 3) Price – Full spectrum of pricing considered: sign up fees, per-hour rental fees, hourly rates on weekdays vs weekend, free mileage and costs thereafter, various fees tacked onto the rental, gas cards, insurance costs/waivers/deductibles. 4) Performance – Does using the company make your life easier/better?

Zipcar


For the best hourly car sharing company in NYC, I chose ZipCar, the benchmark by which all other car sharing programs are measured. ZipCar is loudly praised across the internet, across the country and indeed worldwide as a convenient and well-thought-out car sharing system with widespread availability in and around New York City. My decision to place Zipcar first amongst its competitors is echoed by customers leaving reviews on Yelp, as well as respected online publications such as NYMag.com. Zipcar claims 560,000 members worldwide, and this number grows each year.

With many locations in the NYC area, thousands of cars in the fleet, and an abundance of cars available at each location, Yelp reviewers loved Zipcar’s car availability and flexible rental locations. The beauty of Zipcar in NYC is that alternate rental locations are very easily reached by subway or bus. If the car you are looking for is not available at the date/time/location nearest you, it most likely is available if you hop on the subway for 10 minutes.

Besides an easy-to-use website, reviewers on Yelp enjoyed Zipcar’s free apps for the iPhone and Android devices, as well as a fully functional mobile website which can be accessed from any mobile phone with internet access. You can, therefore, decide to rent a car when you arrive in NYC, get on your phone and create your reservation in 5 minutes, on the fly. This is a tremendous advantage which, when combined with the multiple Zipcar locations and 24/7 access to vehicles, makes Zipcar’s flexibility and accessibility a fan favorite in reviews.

On the flip side, Zipcar is not the cheapest car sharing program. The high prices were often quoted by Yelp reviewers as their primary gripe with their Zipcar rental. Many car sharing programs tout prices as low as $5 per hour, but if you dig deeper, you find that these rates are only during the wee hours of the morning, during the weekdays, and the final cost is higher anyway due to taxes and other fees. No car sharing program will pay for your tolls. So unless you plan your bridge usage wisely, or you don’t leave Manhattan at all, your car sharing rental will most likely cost you more than you think once those charges have been applied to your credit card after the rental. One Yelp reviewer went so far as to say Zipcar’s “billing practices border on the criminal” but, to be fair, reviewers complained about the same thing for the other major competitors as well.

Like the other car sharing programs I’ve chosen to round out my 3 Best, Zipcar provides a gas card, free mileage up to the first 180 miles, and insurance coverage. Zipcar membership is the most pricey, with a $25 application fee and a $60 annual fee for the Pay as You Go program, but for sporadic users, it is the best deal out there due to the widespread availability not only in NYC but across the country. And despite the higher costs of renting Zipcars, one reviewer noted that is still far cheaper than owning a car in Manhattan.

Online reviews of Zipcar are many and various. Some reviewers praised the low cost, while others complained about hidden fees. For the record, all Zipcar fees are disclosed in their website in the FAQ section, and in the Fees section when you click on “Apply.” Some reviewers complained about dirty or malfunctioning cars, but others seemed to have either rented clean cars, or they didn’t care about the dirt.

As far as the cost goes, with Zipcar it pays to know the ropes: weekday rates are cheaper than weekends; nights are cheaper than days; businesses with a tax ID number pay less than individuals. Don’t damage the car, don’t return late, and remember they will bill your credit card for tolls incurred on their EZPass.

Hertz on Demand(formerly Connect by Hertz)


For the second best car sharing program in NYC, I chose Hertz on Demand. Upon seeing the success of Zipcar, Hertz utilized its gigantic existing rental car fleet to create Hertz on Demand. There are now about 25,000 Hertz on Demand members. With no enrollment fee and no annual fee, signing up is painless. Many online reviewers claimed to be members of Hertz, Zipcar, and DriveMint, due to the low costs of Hertz and Mint enrollment. This, one reviewer claimed, allows the customer to compare and contrast rates among the three. (On a side note, I had a hard time believing the no fee signup mentioned in reviews, but I called a Hertz on Demand rep and she confirmed it. Google search “Hertz on Demand coupon code” and you might find codes for $75 in driving credit as well). Hertz on Demand does have an iPhone app so you could poke around with your Zipcar app and your Hertz app and see what’s available, all from your phone.

Hertz on Demand does NOT list specific rates on their website so it is difficult to compare hourly rates with competitors, but the rep on the phone stated that rates start at $10 per hour. This is in contrast to older Yelp reviews that claim you can rent a SmartCar from them from $2 to $5 per hour. More recent reviews claim more standard rates ($136 for Jetta for 25 hours, and another for $105 for a Jetta for 9 hours) that the customers were very happy with. The Hertz on Demand site lists rental rates starting at $5 per hour, which is only valid in VERY specific cases, and does not include taxes or fees. It’s usually more like $10/hour when everything’s factored in.

Complaints from NY customers were few and far between and were mostly about dirty cars, the poorly designed website or more sparsely distributed rental locations. I’d like to add in that some of the Hertz on Demand locations in NYC are run by regular Hertz rental offices. That means the cars held by actual Hertz rental locations are NOT available for rental in the middle of the night, or on Sundays. For those cars, you’d be limited by the hours the Hertz office is open. (The positive side of that is I’d imagine the cars taken care of by Hertz would be cleaner, since they are in physical possession of the Hertz employees after they are returned.)

Hertz provides several things that Zipcar does not: GPS in all cars (widely praised in reviews) and one-way trip availability (reviewers loved being able to drive to the airport and drop the car off there). Another thing I like about Hertz: all extra fees you could be charged are listed in plain English on their website.

A couple reviewers noted that Hertz on Demand charges extra hourly fees if you are aged 18-20 years old. Another downside: the biggest car available in NY is a Toyota Camry. Hertz on Demand does rent the hybrid Prius and SmartCar, and Greenbiz.com praised their fleet of electric Nissan Leafs and SmartCar EVs, but a Jalopnik.com article from January 2011 detailed the problems with renting a fully electric vehicle: lack of convenient charge points in the NYC area. Another downside to CBH: their website shows us their fleet seems to be entirely small cars. No trucks, vans or SUVs available.

All in all, Hertz on Demand seems to be a very strong competitor to Zipcar, especially if you do your homework and plan a week ahead with your reservation. Fewer cars in Manhattan means you can’t always reserve on the fly like you could with Zipcar, but the more flexible one-way trip capabilities means in specific cases, Hertz on Demand could trump Zipcar.

DriveMint


I chose DriveMint as the third best by-the-hour car sharing program in NYC. DriveMint functions like Zipcar and Hertz on Demand: apply for membership, receive a card in the mail, go online and place your reservation. Like the others, DriveMint also has free mileage up to 180 miles, a free gas card, an EZPass, and insurance. Additional fees are disclosed on their website.

DriveMint does have many locations around Manhattan, from the Financial District all the way up to 116th Street. DriveMint has between 5,000 and 6,000 members total between the two cities it serves - Boston and New York.

It appears that there are as few as 3 DriveMint cars available in each location, a fact which many reviewers found limiting. There is no app for any mobile device, so you have to make your reservation on the computer well in advance. Some reviewers complained that DriveMint charges $3.50 if you call them. There’s no app for your phone, so you must reserve in advance on your computer. Reviewers did, however, enjoy the added convenience of the handy computer in the visor of each vehicle that allowed them to adjust their reservations.

Chief complaints on the internet were lack of widespread car availability, dirty and damaged vehicles, and false advertising for their “$5/hour” rentals. It should be noted that the $5/hour rate is only for “Economy” vehicles on Mon-Thurs from midnight to 8AM. Choose a bigger vehicle, a Friday, Saturday or Sunday, or rent during the daytime, and you’ll pay more. Still, the first 5 negative reviews on Yelp all deal with various complaints about pricing and fees.
Things reviewers liked about DriveMint: application fee of $25 and the first year’s annual fee of $40 are waived if you are a member of another car sharing company. Also, some Yelp reviews noted that DriveMint can be cheap if you really plan your trip correctly: choose an Economy model like a Honda Civic Monday thru Thursday, from midnight to 5pm, and you’ll pay a base hourly rate of $4.50 or $6 per hour. If you rent early in the day and you rent during the week, you’ll get off easy. Reviewers noted that these rates are far cheaper than Zipcar. Forget renting from Mint Fridays thru Sundays: Economy models start at $12 per hour.
This is a newer company (established in 2008) and it’s possible they could add to their fleet, revamp their customer service and figure out how to run a tighter ship. For now, with DriveMint, you get what you pay for. Plan WAY ahead, don’t call them, and don’t lose anything or damage the car, and you’ll be happy with your cheap weekday rental.

SUMMARY


For the best hourly car sharing program in the New York City metropolitan area, I choose Zipcar. Zipcar’s large fleet size in NYC and easy-to-use rental system create a car sharing program that is worth the premium price. For my second best car sharing program, I chose Hertz on Demand, as it has the backend system of one of the biggest names in the rental car industry, as well as several exclusive benefits like one-way rental capability and GPS in every vehicle. I chose DriveMint as my third best car sharing program because despite the smaller NYC fleet size, there are weekday bargain rentals available which thrifty customers will appreciate.