Who’s got my Zipcar?

Posted on Thursday 9 December 2010

I’m a big fan of sharing resources and helping our planet, in fact I gladly gave up my car here in NYC and never again missed alternate side parking.

Enter Zipcar, the green friendly company (with a green logo) that will gladly put you in a car for as little as an hour and even pay for your gas. I’ve been happily “zipping” for a couple of years now… until last weekend when a my car reservation went missing and the car ceased to exist for several minutes.

When using a new service like Zipcar that requires cooperation and consideration you get used to rules that help keep that tragedy of the commons at bay(hopefully). You return on time, fill with gas, and even do a car wash. Building up my “carma” points I am mistakenly under the impression that Zipcar now views me as a good member and looks out of me, even that I have good carma coming back to me for all my kindness.

Last Saturday after having a van reservation for several weeks the following scenario transpired.

I show up at the garage where my Zipcar is suppose to be and give the attendant my card, he disappears and comes back moments later and informs me that the car was taken out earlier, since it was already early on Saturday I was puzzled that someone would only need it for about 90 minutes but who am I to say.

I waited until 5 minutes after my appointed hour and called Zipcar… the helpful customer service rep “Terry” told me that the car was indeed there, that it wasn’t taken out. I asked the attendant to look again but he was sure that it had left the garage. What ensued was a he said, they said game where Zipcar insisted that the car was locked and in the garage and the attended shook his head insisting the opposite.

For a time, Zipcar honestly couldn’t tell that another individual had been able to take my car with his Zipcar and just leave with it… they never could tell me why someone else could unlock my vehicle with their card. Two weeks earlier I had an attendant give me the wrong car, almost identical but not the vehicle I had reserved.

My understanding of the RFID is that you could only leave with the vehicle you reserved but in just my own experience there has been hardware “confusion” in assuring that I had the right vehicle and that my vehicle would be waiting only for me.

Zipcar was apologetic but not clear about why this happened… and I am not very pleased that there was no follow up on why. If you are an engineer with Zipcar I would very much like to speak with you about what your thoughts would be.

In any sharing arrangement there has to be trust and faith in the system to have people participate and give to the betterment of the group as a whole. There can be understanding that an individual can be late or even selfish but if the hardware that is meant to mediate or settle the competition for vehicles is broken in some way then it is difficult to not lose some respect for the system as a whole.

Hardware and software is cold and calculated and should not ever sway in it’s delivery of fair and equitable distribution of member resources, if it does it’s not a fluke to be glossed over but a bug to be worked out and eradicated. I do hope that I can get to the bottom of this as I really do respect Zipcar’s contribution to taking cars off the road. I am one of those who put myself in the hands of Zipcar.


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