Sunday, January 21, 2007

Flexcar 2.0 unveiled

Flexcar has unveiled new rate structure for Portland members starting Feb. 1. It's likely that the new rate structure will be applied systemwide soon. Although high demand vehicle locations will be going up in price a dollar or so, during off peak times other locations will be discounted. Many of the changes are an attempt to more equitably charge customers for their trips and increase utilization. Selected members in Portland were part of a test of the new rate structure last fall.

The major features of the changes are:
• Off peak discounts
• Changing the confusing 5, 7 or 10 hours max per day "Freedom" plans to a single daily rate for each location
• Changing the monthly bulk purchase plans ("Advantage Plans") from hours to a dollar basis.

Off peak discounts are decided on a vehicle by vehicle basis. Sedans are typically $9 or $10/hour depending on how much demand there is. Minivans may be $10-$11/hour. In busier urban locations, weekend rates would typically be a dollar per hour higher. Lesser used urban locations, and suburban locations, may be the same on weekdays and weekends, but a weekend daily rate might be more deeply discounted in hopes of driving usage to those locations. Daily rates for most vehicles are $90 per any 24 hour period but some locations with low utilization are as little as $65/day - all with gas and insurance included.

The new "daily rate" replaces the confusing "Freedom" plans that shifted from month to month and were calculated based a max. number of hours per calendar day. The new daily rate plans are per any 24 hour period - e.g. the daily rate for a trip starting a 5 pm continues until 5 pm the next day. The web reservation site will display the daily rate for each vehicle, as well as showing the approximate charges for any trip that is selected before it is confirmed (the blue bar on the reservation line in the graphic above).

The discounts on the new "dollar" Advantage plans stay approximately the same as for similar "buckets" of hours - ranging from 5% to 18%. See Flexcar-provided comparison below:

Two other changes could have significant effect for some: unlimited miles are replaced by a 20 miles per hour (150 mile per day) cap before a 40¢ per mile charge begins. The second change is that members can no long tally their usage during the month and change their rate plan before the last day of the month and have it apply to that month. While the number of members who actually change their rate plans each month is reportedly less than 10%, if my experience is any indication, the policy is likely to catch lots of members up short during the course of a year.

Flexcar says they will start billing for trips within 5 to 7 days after each trip, but promises to get monthly statements out sooner than the middle of the month as they've been doing.

And, as part of their announcement, Flexcar has set an ambitious target to expand the number and variety of vehicles in all cities - for example, double the fleet of approximately 125 cars in Portland. Whether that will include any BMWs remains to be seen. They've finally added a Mini to their fleet in Washington DC. (maybe Steve Case requested one?)

When you think of these changes, none of them are particularly radical but presumably they will add up. Overall, they make Flexcar's policies pretty consistent with Zipcar's, although Flexcar will continue have generally lower hourly usage fees and lower annual membership fee.