By Ed Brennen
Like many students living on campus, sophomore political science major Meaghan Gallagher loves the freedom of hopping in a car and getting out of the city now and then, whether it’s for a quick trip to the mall, a day trip to the beach or a weekend trip home.
But the idea of buying a car, along with the cost of gas, insurance and maintenance, didn’t exactly appeal to Gallagher. That’s why she’s so grateful for the university’s growing partnership with Zipcar, the on-demand car rental service that lets students, faculty and staff rent vehicles by the hour or by the day.
“I just signed up with Zipcar this year and I’ve practically been living in the cars,” says Gallagher, who frequently rounds up a group of friends for weekend road trips. “We’ll take day trips to a concert or go into Boston. It feels like your own car.”
To keep up with the growing Zipcar demand, the university expanded its fleet from four to 10 vehicles this year. There are now five available in the East Campus parking garage, three in the South Campus parking garage and two in the North Campus parking garage.
“We added four new cars at the beginning of the academic year and immediately noticed a surge in usage, so we worked with Zipcar to add two more in November,” says Ruairi O’Mahony, associate director for the Office of Sustainability. “We’ll continue to monitor their usage and utilize every opportunity we can to add more vehicles to make things as convenient as possible for the campus community.”
The vehicles are available to everyone 18 or older, including international students, starting at just $7.50 per hour. To use the service, drivers must first apply for a membership at zipcar.com/uml. Thanks to the university partnership, Zipcar waives the $25 application fee for students, faculty and staff, and reduces the annual membership fee from $70 to just $15. Once approved, a driver can make a reservation online or on their smartphone and then unlock the car with their membership card.
Zipcar, which is headquartered in Boston, operates at more than 500 colleges and universities across North America. The service was introduced at UMass Lowell in the fall of 2011 with two vehicles.
O’Mahony notes that the university’s entire fleet of Zipcars is SmartWay certified, which means they meet the latest greenhouse gas and smog rating thresholds set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
That’s important to students like Rachel Seeley, a freshman exercise physiology major who, like Gallagher, is a member of the Student Government Association.
“I think the idea of car sharing is great for the environment,” Seeley says. “It helps reduce the carbon footprint, which is something students care about.”