It's a long read (by message board standards), but I thought that I should share my recent ZipCar experience (also submitted to TheConsumerist.com).
My cousin's wedding was on July 16th. Knowing how difficult it can be to secure a 24-hour ZipCar reservation on a weekend in the summer, we booked a Mazda 3 more than a month in advance. Having picked up many cars at our local garages (I've been a ZipCar member since 2005), I know that the cars can sometimes get blocked in, so I usually call ahead of time to give the attendant a heads-up. Upon calling the attendant, I got some unwelcome news, "that car isn't here. They picked it up to take it to the shop, but it's not back yet - it's been days."
I wasn't in panic mode just yet - it wasn't quite noon and the wedding was at 5:30 in Princeton, NJ, about an hour-and-a-half away (yes, we actually gave ourselves a cushion of four hours, as we'd be traveling with a newborn and a dog). After a couple of calls to ZipCar, we had a new ride squared away - there was nothing available in Brooklyn, but ZipCar offered to reimburse me for the cab fare to the garage in Manhattan.
I was in the cab, on the Manhattan Bridge, when we hit a little traffic. It wasn't a good sign, but I was still confident that I'd have time. While in traffic, I received the email confirmation of the reservation change. I called the garage to let them know that I was on the way to pick up the car. "328 Bruggman? No, that car isn't here - it hasn't been here for a week! I don't know if someone didn't return it or if it's out for service, but it's not here. I talked to someone from ZipCar and I TOLD them that when they called to say someone was going to pick it up."
Okay - now I'm nearing panic mode. Canal Street and the Manhattan Bridge had turned in to a parking lot and I had no car lined up - I called ZipCar again. After about 5 minutes of going over the slim pickings of available cars, I was left with a choice of venturing up to the Bronx or picking up a Nissan Sentra in a garage in Jersey City, just on the other side of the Holland Tunnel (it's worth noting that none of customer service reps that I'd spoken with had the foggiest notion of New York City metro area logistics. NYC isn't the center of the universe, but I have to imagine that it's their biggest market - shouldn't they at least know that 5 miles in the Midwest is a little different than 5 miles in NYC, especially when there are bridges and tunnels in between?). Neither option sounded fun, but the Holland Tunnel wasn't that far away, so that was my decision. For my troubles, I'd get a couple extra hours out of the deal and I wouldn't have to drop the car off until 2pm the next day - yay. I was determined to further negotiate compensation, but this wasn't the time or place - I had to concentrate on getting to Princeton.
Unfortunately, traffic was a bear all along Canal - I arrived in Jersey City at 2pm. The garage was of the self park variety, there was no number in the confirmation email and the only attendant was a cashier/gate keeper. I was pointed towards the designated ZipCar parking spots but, to my dismay, there wasn't a Nissan Sentra in sight - time for another progressively angry call to ZipCar.
"I'm really sorry that this has happened to you again, let me take a look at what's available and see what we can figure out."
"Are you kidding me? Where are you going to send me?! There's nothing in Manhattan, there's nothing in Brooklyn, and I'm standing in a garage in Jersey-fucking-City! It's 2 o'clock, I have to be in Princeton for my cousin's wedding at 5:30, I have hotel reservations and I have my wife and newborn waiting for me to pick them up at home! This makes three consecutive cars that were missing! No more - I'm standing in front of two ZipCars and you're going to get me in to one of them. I understand that someone else has them reserved sometime in the next 24 hours, but this is your problem, not mine - just get it done, please."
After being put on hold for a few minutes, my ZipCard was authorized for the Mazda 3 and I was on my way back to Brooklyn. My wife was ready and waiting but, with the trip back to Brooklyn, and the traffic and distance involved, we arrived about 15 minutes late to the wedding ceremony. I wish that I could say that our ZipCar woes ended there, but they didn't.
Busy enjoying the wedding and being with family, I didn't look at my phone until the next day, Sunday morning. What I saw was a series of missed calls from an unfamiliar number and a couple of voicemails. Sure enough, ZipCar reps had called and left messages, inquiring on the whereabouts of the car, gently chastising me for not returning the car on time, thus causing an inconvenience for other members, and imploring me to call them back, which is exactly what I did.
"Does anyone at ZipCar note the accounts? Can't you see that you sent me to three cars that weren't there and that I'm supposed to have this car until 2pm today? You guys were supposed to shift their reservations. Does anyone NOTE the accounts? If so, does anyone else READ the notes on the accounts? I just can't fathom why you guys are calling me and this is really, REALLY starting to piss me off - I don't expect to receive another call like this."
When we were packed up and on our way back to NYC, I decided that I had a little time to place a call to negotiate reparations. I started out high, with a fairly unreasonable request to let them know my displeasure, "I don't feel that I should have to take this thing all the way back to Jersey City - I want to drop it off someplace closer to home." I knew that others would have the car reserved in the afternoon, and I didn't think that it would be feasible for them to cave to my request. As expected, the rep said that he understood my unhappiness but that it wasn't possible for me to drop the car off elsewhere. "Fine, I'll drop your car off in Jersey, but we need to talk about compensation. Someone else mentioned cab fare and a $30 credit - I think that that's an insult." I was eventually offered cab reimbursement and $80 - not great, but whatever. I got the car to the garage at about 1:15pm.
....and no, it's not over yet. Today, Monday, I received an email notifying me of a late return, $75 worth of additional fees as a result and no mention of the $80 credit. According to their system, I was supposed to have the car back at noon, despite my conversation with their service rep a couple of days prior (it turns out that that particular rep did note the 2pm return, but this was for ghost car number 3. The rep that got me in to the Mazda neglected to carry that time over and instead booked it for the original slot of noon-to-noon, despite the fact that it was 2pm at the time). I called ZipCar with choice words.
I was tersely polite with the "Supervisor" (I have my doubts) at first, but her inability and/or unwillingness to recognize their faults was too much to bear. When she informed me that she would remove the late fees as a "one-time courtesy," I just about lost my shit. I informed her that it's not doing me a "courtesy," when their mess up is directly responsible. I questioned whether or not she was actually a supervisor because of her lack of imagination, empathy and her strict adherence to her CSR script. When she said that she would forward my case to the regional office, I requested to be able to follow-up myself, "look, I know that communication isn't a strong point at ZipCar, but why don't you forward me the number and address of the regional office, along with the name of someone that can actually do something for me." To this, she actually had the gall to retort, "actually, communication IS a strong point for us at ZipCa-" I didn't let her get any further before pointing out the numerous breakdowns in communication in sending me to various missing cars, not properly noting reservation times, etc, etc.
At this point, I intend to speak with Charlie Irons, General Manager for the region, evidently. I hope that I can report back with a positive outcome, but I'm not optimistic. I'll keep you posted.