Exploring Pittsburgh Without Your Own Car – Zipcar Edition

Published by Jeremy. Last Updated on March 14, 2019.

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In our series, Exploring Pittsburgh Without Your Own Car, we want to put ourselves in the shoes of visitors and locals who navigate the city through means other than using their own car. The reason for this is because while many visitors and locals in Pittsburgh own their own vehicles, this is not the case for everyone as many choose to not have their own cars to cut costs or enjoy many other benefits of being car-free.

For those who fall into this category, you then have to look at alternative options that are available- be it public transportation, private transportation services, your own feet or bike, or others. Each of these has its own nuances and cases where it is the most practical, and it is our goal in this series to test the different methods ourselves to see how practical they are for people in the city.

In this edition, our friends at Zipcar asked us to take a car out for a spin when we mentioned we were planning an IKEA run for a big purchase. As Zipcar has over 80 cars scattered around the city, we knew it would be a good feature in this series, and this entry was born.

Disclaimer: This post is sponsored by Zipcar. As always, all opinions are our own.

Taking a Zipcar out to IKEA in Robinson Township

Pittsburgh Zipcar

Our trip out with a Zipcar coincided with a visit to IKEA, where we needed an SUV for a few larger purchases that would not fit into our compact cars. Rather than pick up an SUV or truck from a rental car or moving company, our friends at Zipcar suggested we take their car out for a spin to help save us time and effort to figure out the logistics of a more traditional rental.

As we live in the North Side, we found that Zipcar has two to three cars permanently located at the Aviary- just a few blocks from our house. Renting the car was as simple as making the reservation, walking a few blocks down the road, unlocking the car with our Zipcard (a credit card-like device that contains your reservation to unlock your car), and driving away.

There were no interactions with other humans, no heading out of town to a pushy car rental store with limited operating hours, and no hassle what-so-ever. Simply access to the car 24/7 whenever we wanted to pick it up.

Pittsburgh Zipcar

From there, the journey out to IKEA and back was exactly as you would expect- all the way down to Angie and I arguing over what we wanted to buy (an IKEA tradition). The only difference came at the end of the shopping run where we were no longer packing up my tiny Honda Civic but instead were loading up a Honda CR-V.

So while on previous trips to IKEA we spent about an hour in the parking lot trying to cram everything into our little car, this time we loaded our Zipcar up with ease, drove back home to unload, and went around the block to drop the car off at the end of the journey.


The Cost Basis of Using a Zipcar in Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh Zipcar

When it comes to anything in life, understanding the true cost of a service is important. And in this series of exploring Pittsburgh without your own car, we want to spend a bit of time focusing on the logistics and cost basis of doing so. Because while you can easily say I'll just rent a car, sometimes it is not that simple as rental spots are often on the outskirts of the city, have limited opening hours (especially on weekends), and can be quite expensive.

When you look at the cost of a Zipcar, including the $35 per year membership fee (using our discount code at the end of this post) plus the driving cost which starts at $8/hour and taxes, you may get a bit of sticker shock when calculating out the cost of a four hour journey.

But when you don't own your own car, as many in the city do not, you really need to look at the costs in more detail when compared to your other options. So let's compare, shall we?

For users in Pittsburgh, we've considered two cases where taking out one of the 80+ Zipcars located around the city may make the most sense.

Case 1 – If you do not own a car (quick trips)

For us, our second car costs just over $200 per month. Throw in another $50 per month in insurance and $25 for a tank of gas, and you have our overall monthly cost of the car being $275 excluding less frequent fees like repairs and maintenance.

So let's say we take public transportation to work and do not need the car for daily commutes, and take it out once per weekend for errands. The cost for your own vehicle (at $275 per month) for four days of use becomes $68.75 per day, roughly on par with what you'd spend on a rental car each day.

If we got rid of our car entirely and only took a Zipcar out for two hours once per weekend, our spending would come in at about $21.00 per day. This rate is cheaper than most Ubers and taxis, and is a whole lot faster than the bus service at only a slight premium (which for our time, I'll gladly pay the difference to avoid sitting on a bus for a few hours).

For our IKEA trip above, our four-hour journey cost roughly $40. But if you only make a big shopping trip once per weekend, or even less frequently, you can see how this would save a lot of money over purchasing a car in the long run. (And even if you do have a car, picking up an SUV like we did is convenient as well!)

Case 2 – Group trips (big trips)

But what if you aren't taking a Zipcar out for a trip around town? What if you don't have a car but want to go exploring the far reaches of the city or Western PA on a longer day trip (say, going out for four hours to Moraine State Park and back). A four-hour Zipcar trip here may about $40, and the same concept applies.

There are no buses this far out of town, a taxi/Uber would be cost prohibitive, and if you go with a group of friends you can enjoy a day out for a fraction of the cost. Sure, you could also pick up a rental car and have it for a full day, but renting one on a Saturday morning in the city is extremely difficult to say the least (and we're not going to even touch what it is like if you want to pick-up or drop-off a conventional rental in the evening or around holidays!).

In this particular case, there is also something unique that is worth mentioning- gas and insurance is included in all Zipcar rentals. So that 80 mile journey would consume three to four gallons of gas, and in a traditional rental car would cost you an extra $7.50 to $10.00 on top of the rental car cost. With Zipcar there is not only the convenience of accessing the car, but the gasoline is included in the price you pay- so those who travel long distances with the rental will have even more savings in the long run!

Zipcar Works in Pittsburgh (If You Don't Have Your Own Wheels)

Pittsburgh Zipcar

Overall, we're really excited to have Zipcar as an option for transportation in Pittsburgh as it does a great job offering an option to those who need an alternative way to get around- be it for those who don't have a car at all or those who simply need a larger vehicle for unique scenarios like our IKEA trip.

This service definitely isn't for everyone, as we are a commuting city and many residents own their own car. But for those who do not have a car there are several cases where taking a Zipcar out for a spin would be convenient and much more cost effective than more common options such as the bus, taxi, or Uber.

If this is you, a Zipcar membership is well worth considering.

To become a member of Zipcar, click here. Use the discount code discover to claim a 50% off discount from the yearly membership fee, plus a $0 application fee and $15 in driving credit (good for 1-2 hours of rental time) on us!

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