Car-sharing provider Zipcar has been particularly aggressive about enrolling colleges in partnerships to provide car sharing on their campuses. The company just announced it completed rollouts of its car sharing services on eight more college campuses across the country: University of Texas at Austin, Michigan State University, North Carolina State University, University of Richmond, Christopher Newport University, Hampshire College, Meredith College and Seton Hall University.
These additions bring Zipcar's college roster a total of 225 campuses populated by 1.7 million students, faculty and staff, according to a company press release.
I think car sharing could be a fine alternative to dropping thousands of dollars on a car for your college-bound kid, especially if you're already having to drop a bunch of money contributing to their tuition, room and board. It lets kids make those necessary trips to the grocery store and Walmart without chaining them to a car they have to maintain, fill up with gas and park, and has the potential to save money, too.
Parking in particular can be murder on a college campus. My first semester in college I once got my car towed three times in two weeks, thanks to a combination of carelessness, a hidden "no parking" sign and a freshman parking lot transforming into alumni parking overnight because of a football game. It cost me $80 a pop to get it out all three times, and I remember wondering why the hell I'd brought a car to college to begin with.
And it's not just parking costs and missteps that are prohibitively expensive; depreciation happens so fast on a college campus it will make your head spin. When I was in college, I saw no shortage of parent-provided cars fall apart before my eyes as their owners beat them to a pulp, failed to perform needed maintenance and left them in college parking lots full of inexperienced drivers who invariably added their own scrapes, dents and cracks. I'd wager the majority of parent-provided cars don't make it much past graduation, if they make it that far.
Zipcar estimates opting for car sharing rather than buying a new or late model used car with an auto loan will save about $500 a month per vehicle, even if your student is a heavy Zipcar user (10 two-hour, two three-hour, and two 24-hour reservations). Even if the savings end up being half that, $250 a month is a lot of scratch, especially for parents being squeezed for sky-high tuition and fees already.
What do you think? Is car sharing a smart option for college students? I'd especially like to hear from college students on this one.