I recently looked up Zipcar as a solution for the all-too-common New Yorker lack of wheels. I had seen the cars on Vancouver streets and heard good things about them. The rates for our New York area were on a par with most other major Zipcar hubs: around $70 daily for week days and $80 daily for week-ends, all other company advantages included.

Two days ago, Marie and I decided to sign up. Before talking the plunge and paying my yearly membership and a sign-up fee, I looked at the rates again to convince myself that I was making a good move. But I couldn’t believe my eyes. The price had changed, and drastically! The membership fee was up by $10. The NYC rates were up to $82 for week days and a whopping $124 for week-end days – that being Friday, Saturday and Sunday!

That’s a 50% increase of week-end rates within a few weeks, no warning nor explanations given!

So I postponed my move and sent Zipcar an email asking for the reason for this price hike, since NYC seems to be the only affected city. Expecting a customer-service savvy reply, I asked what would have happened if I’d just signed up and the prices suddenly changed by this much. This is me, less the pleasantries:

“I was recently investigating joining ZipCar for the New York area and looked at your info online, including rates. Today before signing up, I looked again and I could swear the rates have jumped up tremendously. No other city in the US has such high week-end rates! $124 daily on the occasional driving plan is on average 50% more expensive than everywhere else. What justifies this increase? What if I had signed up a few weeks ago and was now confronted with these prices? What if I sign up now and the rates go up by another 50% next week?”

The answer that arrived yesterday – a Sunday to their credit – left me puzzled and a little depressed. See for yourself (that’s the entire email, the highlighting is mine):

“Thank you for your inquiry. As an educated consumer, I admire your candor with the results of your investigation. Our rates are slightly higher because of the accessibility of our vehicles and services to our members, we are currently in 13 major markets in the United States and have recently expanded our fleet overseas to London. We possesses a larger selection of vehicles to meet the lifestyle needs of each and every one of our members. This selection is also backed by our knowledgeable and courteous team of advisors and member service representatives who are there for you when you need it most. In addition to this we offer Road Side assistance during times of mishaps as we are always concerned about the safety and welfare of our members.

As always, fuel and mileage are included, we look forward to you Zipping around with us soon. Please feel free to contact me with any further questions regarding the matter.”

Granted, my own email wasn’t the best prose I have ever come up with. It was written fast and out of disappointment. But that answer? Not only are none of my concerns/questions addressed, but that beginning pitch: “As an educated consumer, I admire your candor with the results of your investigation.” Was the guy just high?

So with Zipcar dodging the issue and the discovery of multiple bad reviews on Yelp and other public forums about dirty cars, unavailable vehicles even after prior reservation and quoted rates changing unexpectedly at billing time, I think at this stage, we are going to pass and go zip somewhere else.

Way to go Zipcar.