My First ZipTrip

Last Saturday morning I got my first chance to find out if ZipCar lives up to the hype. The occasion was a friend of the blog coming into town for the holiday weekend. In my attempt to be a good host, I offered to do an airport pick-up at BWI. The experience was rather exhilarating for my first ZipTrip; and it really put the service to the test. But maybe I ought to start the story from the beginning...

(from Flickr user citta-vita)

Making the Reservation
I made my reservation about two weeks in advance. I picked a Honda Civic parked behind a Citibank in Eastern Market. The cost was $7.75 per hour. I figured the pick-up would take about an hour, but ZipCar has pretty stiff penalties if you're late. Plus, you never know when a flight might get delayed or something else could potentially go wrong; so I went ahead and booked the vehicle until 10:30 - a 2.5 hour reservation that I thought would give me plenty of buffer time.

The Time Arrives
On Saturday morning I hopped on the Orange Line over to Eastern Market. I quickly found the Civic in the Citibank parking lot exactly as the emails from ZipCar described. The first think I did was check the car for damage - because the last thing I want is to be held responsible for something I didn't do... there were two problems with the Civic. There was a pretty big scratch on the back bumper, as if someone had backed into something, and the cord that attaches the key to the dash was broken. Fortunately, the key was in the car.

ZipTrip Begins
I hopped on the freeway and started making my way north. Everything was going smoothly as I pulled into BWI to make the pickup. Unfortunately, the incoming flight had been delayed due to navigational problems on the plane, and it would arrive at 9:05, about a half-hour late. In the meantime I figured I'd fill up the tank and wait until the flight landed before circling back around the arrivals area. I pulled into a Shell station and armed with ZipCar's credit card, fueled up the Civic. I made the pickup at 9:15 and we were on the road and headed back toward Eastern Market.

Tragedy Strikes
As we are cruising down the BW parkway, a sea of red lights appears in front of us. I apply the break and soon we're at a full stop. I check the clock - 9:45. Plenty of time to make it back in good conditions, but I'm not sure what's going on here. I flip the radio to WTOP and within seconds they have an update. It went something like this:
Multiple car wreck on the southbound BW Parkway. Traffic is backed up past Route 197. No tow-trucks on the scene. It's going to be a while before they get that cleared up.
Bad sign. Really bad sign. ZipCar has a strict 'don't be late' policy, which is precisely why I built some insurance time into my reservation, but at that point had no idea how long we'd be sitting at a standstill on the BW Parkway? A motorcycle cop drove past on the shoulder and started forcing everyone off at the Laurel Bowie Rd exit. At the first red light I pulled out my phone and checked Google Maps for an alternative route - the options were slim. We were still well outside the beltway and cutting over to I95 would not be a picnic. I decided to follow Baltimore Avenue south until I could reconnect with the beltway.

The route was highly inefficient. At a long red light I checked the clock again - 9:58. I knew I probably wasn't going to make it back by 10:30 at the pace I was going. I needed more time. I dialed ZipCar to extend my reservation. I couldn't. Someone else had the Civic booked at 10:30. At this point I start to panic. ZipCar's late fees are steep, starting at 50 dollars. I'm all for holding people responsible, but this wreck was completely out of my control. What could I possibly do?

A ZipCar Miracle
I connected to the operator and explained that I wasn't going to make it back on time. She gave me the typical spiel about how I need to be responsible and return the car on time and that another customer would be waiting at 10:30. I countered that I literally could not make it back in time because the entire BW Parkway was closed. I asked if she could offer a different ZipCar to the customer? She said she would give that customer a call and let me know the outcome.

Five minutes later the ZipCar rep called back. The customer sympathized with my situation and agreed to take a different ZipCar. Instead of charging me the late fee, ZipCar would instead extend my reservation until noon, I would only have to pay for an additional 1.5 hours at the regular rate. What could have turned out very badly for me, and my relationship with ZipCar, left me feeling extremely impressed with the service.

Happy Ending
I finally made it back to the beltway, down to Eastern Market, and dropped the Civic behind CitiBank at 10:37. Seven minutes late based on my original reservation, but with plenty of time to spare on the extended reservation. I was just happy to have gotten it back.

I have more thoughts about ZipCar that I will share for another post. For now, they've left me a satisfied customer. Let's hope they don't do anything to make me change my mind.


    FYI, between the B30 Metrobus from Greenbelt Metro and MARC, transit service to BWI isn't too bad. Not great, but not terrible.

    Of course it depends on the person you're picking up, but I generally use transit rather than ZipCar to go to BWI.


    I'm a fan of the B30 myself. MARC is useless for weekend air travel.

    On July 14, 2010 Lis said...

    My car is 17 years old, so I've been considering just using Zipcar once it finally dies. It's good to hear your experiences, cause I've wondered how a lot of the details work. Good to hear the customer service was decent!