Dude, where's my Zipcar?

What use is a Zipcar app if all the Zipcars have gone missing?

http://www.flickr.com/photos/kworth30/2271118974

Zipcar, that post-dot-com-era savior of car-rental-haters everywhere, recently got a big boost to its already somewhat high-tech take on part-time car acquisition with the launch of its iPhone app . A mix of simple map-based search and reservation functionality and a neat headline-getting software remote to lock, unlock, and honk the horn on your car--it's a nice mix. I was sure to download the app as soon as I could, since I'm a frequent Zipcar user in New York City. Or, at least, I used to be. See, there's an area of Zipcar that could still use some improving.

The actual capability to find one's reserved car, for instance. For two consecutive weeks, Zipcar promised me a vehicle that simply wasn't there.

Week one: I had reserved a car less than 10 blocks from me. The day before my reservation, a customer service representative called me on my iPhone to tell me that my vehicle needed "emergency steam-cleaning," and rerouted my reservation to one of the only available emergency cars left on short notice, which was located miles away. I'd need to take a cab there and back or use an elaborate path of subways and buses, and the representative told me to save my taxi receipts and fax them to Zipcar so that I could be reimbursed.

Week two was worse. I showed up at my designated garage, and my car was simply not there. A PSP-playing garage attendant told me with no real sense of passion that my car--or any other Zipcar--was not in the building. I called Zipcar with its fancy new app and told them, and they informed me that the previous user hadn't called in to say they'd be late. I couldn't understand why that was necessary for me to know, but they said that's why they weren't able to notify me. I was stunned--Zipcar is a trust system, really? Its cars can be remote-locked and equipped with gas cards, but they can't be GPS-tagged?

Again, I was emergency rerouted to a banged-up BMW more than 30 blocks away. As I was speed-cabbing up to the spot as the representative gave me directions over the phone, I felt like a spy in some incredibly lame "Bourne" rip-off.

The Zipcar app, of course, helped me with none of this. Neither could Zipcar's representatives, who didn't offer me anything more than two hours of free car time in exchange for causing me to be late both times I actually needed a car.

So, allow me to burst a small bubble with the Zipcar app frenzy. In fact, to anyone who is considering making an app: please consider making your physical service work just a little bit better before dumping remote car-honking gags on us. Or, have your app assist in actually locating the cars in addition to simply reserving them.

Thanks. By the way, has this happened to you?

About the author

Scott Stein is a senior editor covering iOS and laptop reviews, mobile computing, video games, and tech culture. He has previously written for both mainstream and technology enthusiast publications including Wired, Esquire.com, Men's Journal, and Maxim, and regularly appears on TV and radio talking tech trends.

 

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