Flexcar: Rate Changes

Saturday, April 16, 2005, at 12:28PM

By Eric Richardson

I got my March Flexcar bill in the mail a few days ago, and noticed that it came with a sheet titled "Important Notice to Flexcar Members." The annual membership fee is going up $5, mileage charges are going away, and the Advantage plan rates are changing. The flyer doesn't specify, but I would assume these changes are specific to the Los Angeles market (at least the plans... the annual fee might be system-wide). Taken together, the changes make me wonder if Flexcar is altering its focus away from short mid-day trips.

The concept of car-sharing has long held that there exists a user group that can largely function without a vehicle, but needs the flexibility for things that come up -- doctor appointments, mid-day errands, etc. From an article on bankrate.com:

Most individual members of Seattle-based Flexcar tend to reserve a vehicle for 2 1/2 to three hours and wind up driving a total of about seven miles going to the grocery store or to doctor's appointments, said president and CEO Lance Ayrault.

If that's the case, who cares about mileage restrictions? I know I've never even come close to maxing miles out under the current system.

The Advantage Plans are also quickly becoming less so. The 5-hour plan is going away, and the 10-hour plan is about to become $9.75/hour (compared to the non-plan rate of $10/hour, and the current $8.50/hour). Certainly this means a change to the additional miles fee (currently $0.35/hour above the effective hourly rate of the plan); there's no way Advantage 10 people are going to be paying more than $10/hour. The 25-hour plan's effective rate will be $9.25/hour (currently $8), and the Adv. 50 will be $8.75/hour (currently $7.50).

Those are some steep hikes. In March I used my 10 plan hours, plus 6 more that were charged. The pre-tax cost was $139. Were I to have that same usage in May I would pay $157.50, or a little over 13% more.

My hour usage is a little deceptive since I tried to maximize my time through Freedom 5 (a day costs 5 hours) and the free night hours (midnight to 6am). I had a car for significantly longer than 16 hours. Still, though, it's tough for me to say whether I got $160 worth of utility out of my usage.

As before, my main problem with Flexcar in LA is that getting a car is a trip in itself. I feel I have to maximize my time, putting as many things as possible together into one trip, since it takes a good twenty minutes for me to go get a car. That's the problem they need to solve, and I really feel like Downtown and its new residential population could be the answer. Right now, though, they aren't doing anything to capitalize on this time of transition.

As a PS, I also have to mention that my bill was a littler nicer thanks to a $20 credit I received from Jim Winstead listing me as having referred him to Flexcar.