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Vegas getting some Zip in its rental cars

Transportation experts tell us the Millennial Generation is all about mass transit and not so interested in car ownership.

Which has to be a little scary if your name is Larry Miller, Frank Findlay, Cal Worthington or John Barr.

Car sharing, a transportation model used all over the world, finally has landed in Las Vegas in the form of Zipcar, an offshoot of the Avis Budget Group.

It’s car rental with a twist, and it was rolled out at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and McCarran International Airport’s Rental Car Center last week.

The concept is pretty simple. You buy a membership for $25, turn in an application, wait for Zipcar to make sure you’ve had a driver’s license for a year, haven’t had two moving violations or traffic accidents within two years (or more than one in 18 months) or any alcohol- or drug-related incidents within the past seven years.

When you’re cleared, you get a Zipcard in the mail and become a “Zipster.”

That gives you the ability to reserve a new car for $7.50 an hour or $69 a day. Part of the application you turned in has your credit card information so that Zipcar can charge you whenever you use a car.

And they have some pretty cool cars — brand new BMW 328i’s, Mazda 3 Hatchbacks, Toyota Priuses and Ford Focuses (or is it Foci?).

The community can use Zipcar by checking out one of six cars at the McCarran facility, and you have to be at least 21 to buy in.

The UNLV-affiliated Zipcar is open to students 18 or older, right in the wheelhouse of the Millennials, who apparently do need to use cars every once in awhile.

As much as Millennials might eschew car ownership, they embrace technology — and the technology Zipcar offers is pretty cool.

First, you can download an application to your smartphone that makes the car reservation system simple. In some cities, you can even choose the color of the car you’re borrowing.

Once your Zipcard arrives in the mail and you’ve reserved a car, you take the Zipcard to the lot, flash it toward a reader in the windshield and the vehicle’s doors unlock. The key to the car is inside.

Also inside is the car is a gas card you use to purchase fuel, since that’s included in the price of the usage (as is insurance).

If there’s a downside to the Zipcar car-sharing plan, it may be in availability. There are only two cars dedicated to UNLV and six at McCarran. But company officials say they plan to monitor use and add cars to the fleet if demand is high.

Another downside: a mileage allowance.

Gas and insurance are included in the cost, but users only get 180 miles in a day before added fees kick in. So let’s say you want to drive to Los Angeles for a weekend. That’s 271 miles from city center to city center or 542 miles round trip. If you borrow for two days, you get an allowance of 360 miles. Your two days of borrowing cost $69 a day, or $138. The extra 182 miles will cost 35 cents a mile, or $63.70.

Total cost for an L.A. trip for the weekend: $201.70 — $226.70 if you count the $25 you paid to get in. Probably not too bad, considering you never have to pay for maintenance, tires, oil changes or anything else. By the way, the maximum usage interval is seven days unless you make special arrangements.

Zipsters do have to follow a few rules.

Drivers are instructed to lock the keys inside the car every time they leave the vehicle and use the Zipcard to lock and unlock it, something an experienced car owner could have trouble getting used to.

Drivers also are instructed to leave at least a quarter tank of gasoline for the next driver.

There are no one-way trips. A Zipcar has to be returned to where it was borrowed.

And, drivers also are asked to clean out the car and leave it presentable for the next user.

There are a few other rules and policies, and the company’s website is thorough with details.

For example, it will walk prospective members through the registration process if a foreign driver’s license is involved. Pets in cars have to be in carriers. No smoking is allowed (and the company stipulates that holding a cigarette outside the car is still considered smoking in the vehicle).

If you don’t get the car in on time, you will be assessed a $50 late fee.

If you’re in an accident with a car, you also might be whacked with a $750 damage fee, which would be waived if it’s determined that another party was responsible.

Now that Zipcar is here, watch for other car-sharing companies to arrive. One of the most intriguing is a downtown Las Vegas effort called Project 100, also known as Shift. Zappos.com CEO Tony Hsieh is fronting the plan, which involves the purchase of 100 Teslas and also includes the sharing of a fleet of bicycles. Project leaders say they’re still a few weeks away from talking about it publicly, although a few national publications have offered some details about it.

Other national car-sharing companies include Car2Go, Flexcar, Getaround, JustShareIt and RelayRides.

Questions and comments should be sent to roadwarrior@reviewjournal.com. Please include your phone number. Follow the Road Warrior on Twitter @RJroadwarrior.

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