Car sharing is so hot right now. Zipcar and Getaround are huge in the United States, GoGet and GreenShareCar are both big in Australia. Hertz 24/7 may not have the same market penetration as, say, GoGet, but it has one huge advantage: no sign-up fees or mandatory yearly or monthly costs. We went for a quick ride to try it out.
While GoGet has 1000-plus cars scattered around the country, Hertz has restricted access to its 24/7 drivership to metropolitan Sydney and Gold Coast -- in Sydney, for example, it has a middling 50 locations in the CBD, Bondi and Sydney Airport you can pick a car up from, some of which have more than a few cars available to choose from. (In Melbourne, Hertz also owns Flexicar, but it's a paid membership.)
Most 24/7 cars are branded with Hertz's distinct black-on-yellow logo, but there are some unbranded, undercover vehicles available as well (for a slight hourly premium). Since Hertz is a global enterprise, Hertz 24/7 Australia membership is equally valid in other cities like New York, San Francisco, London and Paris.
For sheer critical mass, though, it's going to be hard to beat GoGet -- the top image shows Hertz 24/7 vehicles in the greater Sydney CBD, the bottom shows GoGet:
But while there may not be so many Hertz cars on the road right now, more vehicles are added regularly, and the service isn't in as such high demand as its competitors just yet.
Joining Hertz 24/7 in Australia, just like joining the regular Hertz rental program, is free. Sign up online or in a Hertz office, and a few days later you'll receive a RFID key-fob in the mail. This fob is the key -- literally -- to accessing the entire Hertz 24/7 car-sharing fleet; every vehicle has an RFID tag-reader nestled in the lower edge of the passenger side of its windscreen, and swiping your fob against this reader unlocks the doors and gives you access to the car. But first, you've got to book the car through Hertz's 24/7 website, or the Android and iOS apps.
You can book a 24/7 rental for anything from a single hour, to three days in a row, and like the name suggests, bookings and vehicles are always open. Book for less than eight hours at a time, and your booking includes unlimited kilometres -- no distance surcharge, and no fuel surcharge. All Hertz's cars have fuel cards inside, with a simple rule of thumb to follow: if there's less than a quarter of a tank of petrol in the car at the end of your rental, help out and fill it up before you park and go.
Here's the RFID reader, attached to a car's windscreen using double-sided tape:
When you book a car, you'll pay as little as $9.90 per hour for an economy get-around like a Toyota Yaris, slightly more at $10.90 per hour for a larger economy car like a Hyundai i30, slightly more again at $11.50 for a wagon or SUV like a Nissan X-Trail, or $14.90 per hour for one of Hertz's 'FUN!' Mini Cooper convertibles. Book a car for an entire day (over eight hours) and the pricing structure is simpler: $75, $80, $88 or $95 for each respective size class. Bookings longer than eight hours include 350 kilometres of distance -- go over that and you'll pay 39 cents per kilometre, quickly racking up an excess fee.
The unlimited-limited model and free fuel makes sense, as does the middling 350km daily limit; even if you jumped in a Hertz 24/7 car and booted it to the freeway to sit on 110km/h, with traffic and stopping for fuel and your intended purpose for the trip, we don't think you'd cover much more than 500km in the unlimited 8 hour window. For the vast majority of trips, it's convenient to be able to jump in the car and not worry about paying for (or filling up with) petrol, or about working out your effective driving distance down to the street corner.
We took a Mini Cooper convertible for an hour-long jaunt around Sydney and the lower north shore. Picking up the car, a blue automatic, from outside Hertz's showroom on William Street between the Sydney CBD and King's Cross, was simple enough; walk up to the car, tap the RFID tag against windscreen, hop in the driver's seat, push the start button, and you're off and running. The fact that there's no complicated initiation procedure makes it feel like you're getting the maximum usable time out of your booking.
An hour was just enough for us to drive from William Street up across the Harbour Bridge, into North Sydney, down for a coffee in McMahons Point -- with a quick stop-off for a photo or two at the ferry wharf -- and then back into the CBD to return the Mini to its 24/7 spot for its next potential booking. Traffic is the one thing you can't control with a car-sharing booking, and while we had a decent run around Sydney's business district in our test drive, we wouldn't expect it to always be that smooth; booking an extra 15 minutes above your expected travel time is probably a good idea.
One caveat with Hertz 24/7 is the necessary requirement of having to make a reservation in advance; you can't just walk up to a car and start a booking by swiping your RFID fob, which would be just about our only criticism of the service. Mobile-friendly car and taxi apps like Uber and GoGet and GoCatch pride themselves on a quick turnaround between you opening the app and a vehicle being available to you, so it would be nice to have similar functionality with Hertz 24/7 -- maybe location-based suggestions and a streamlined booking process for whichever car is closest to you.
Once you're in the correct car with a valid booking, a small monochrome LCD screen shows you the details of your reservation -- how long you've booked the car for, and any other terms or helpful hints -- but there's no option to actually book a car by swiping and sitting. For that, your closest approximation is standing outside the vehicle and loading up the Hertz 24/7 app on either iOS or Android, and going through the booking process there. The screen is also hooked into a speakerphone that lets you call through and connect to a Hertz representative if you have any concerns or questions about the car or your booking. It's all quite simple and reassuring, although you'll likely never use it -- we spent our time just driving and doing the tasks we intended to do on our journey.
The 24/7 app is reasonably capable on both iOS and Android, although the app does take a second or two between the various stages of its booking screens -- it's constantly checking back with the Hertz website and database to update the availability of vehicles, so it's entirely possible (although highly unlikely) that someone could steal a car out from under you as you're searching. We used the web app for our particular booking, but we wouldn't hesitate to use Android or iOS, even if it's not as slick as something like Uber.
The trip that we took cost us a total of $14.90 -- and that's including the initial process of signing up for the service, making a first booking of two hours' length, then changing it at the last minute. Hertz's pricing is very simple, and there are no hidden fees or premiums that we ran into. Contrast this to GoGet, where you pay a monthly fee, joining fee, and per-kilometre fee on top of your hourly payment, and Hertz starts to look pretty good.
Hertz 24/7, although it makes the option available, isn't well suited in its pricing structure for longer trips. You're better off handling a longer booking with the regular Hertz rental agency or one of its competitors. It's easy to get cheaper multi-day deals with unlimited kilometres included (through a service like Hertz Gold Plus, for example).
But for quick jaunts around the city -- to drop off something to a friend, or to make a quick visit to the suburbs in your lunch break -- Hertz 24/7 is perfectly adequate. Not having an annual or recurring fee is a huge bonus, especially since car-sharing services are meant to appeal most to infrequent users.
If short trips are your thing, but you don't even take them that often, Hertz 24/7 is a smart choice. GoGet may be better for a regular car-sharing user who can commit to semi-regular usage, and it has a much wider nation- and citywide network of vehicles, but you pay for the privilege.
With the Hertz 24/7 fob on your keyring, you're able to book a car around Sydney or the Gold Coast only when you need it, without shelling out a membership fee that you might not be able to justify every single month. That is an attractive proposition.