Car sharing is a great thing. If you're a member of your chosen cartel, you can book a convenient car with a moment's notice, tap your smart credit card on the windscreen reader to activate your booking, and then drive around like you own it. While GoGet and GreenShareCar are multi-city services, Flexicar is car sharing specifically for Melbournites.
What Is It?
Flexicar is a car sharing service for Melbourne and its surrounds -- with dozens of cars in dozens of pods throughout the CBD and stretching out east to Narre Warren, north to Wattle Glen, west to Deer Park and south to Frankston and Mount Eliza. The coverage is comprehensive and diverse at the same time; if you're anywhere in the middle of the city you're barely a couple of blocks from a Flexicar pod at any time.
— Campbell Simpson (@csimps0n) March 12, 2015
Flexicar doesn't charge any sign-up rates, but instead charges a flat $70 membership fee to all drivers yearly that includes comprehensive damage insurance on all its vehicles. The four different tiers of membership let you lower your hourly fee for hiring a car by pre-charging you for a certain amount of driving credit; a $200 per month pre-payment drops your hourly rate from $13.50 to $8.95, for example. If you want a particular vehicle, like a people mover or a luxury car, you'll pay a small to moderate premium for it. A SUV is $1 extra per hour, a people mover is $2, a luxury car is $4, and so on.
All cars are automatic, and there's no restrictions on membership -- as long as you're a licensed driver you can join Flexicar. If you're on L or P plates you'll be restricted to certain cars, unless you've cleared it with VicRoads beforehand. (You guys are pretty stringent with your road rules, huh?) You can book a car for up to 3 days at a time, you can extend or alter your booking, and you can cancel it with no penalty as long as you're four hours or more out of the booking window.
What's It Good At?
Flexicar is every bit as easy to use as GoGet, Hertz 24/7 and GreenShareCar. You go to the website or iOS app, find a car near you or near your intended destination, check the times you want are free, and hit the big booking button. Then, once you're at the car, you swipe your Flexicar member pass on the tag reader in the windscreen, jump in and you're away. There's no human interaction required.
There's a good range of cars, too, and in a huge variety of locations in both on-street and off-street parking -- especially around the central business district of Melbourne. This is probably Flexicar's biggest advantage over its competitors; you can get into a BMW 118i or X3 to look fancy, pick up a Toyota HiAce moving van (a lot cheaper than hiring a moving company), or go on a day-long road trip in a fuel-efficient Toyota Prius. Prices are all pretty reasonable; the only sticking point is that if you're on your Ps you'll need approval to drive a turbocharged vehicle from VicRoads.
I hired a Nissan Qashqai and a Nissan X-Trail for the purposes of testing out Flexicar, both full-size SUVs for an additional cost of $1 per hour over the standard Flexicar rate. A regular user would have paid $9.95 per hour, while the most irregular introductory user would be up for $15.50 -- both affordable prices when you consider the day rate of a standard hire car. Four hours in the Qashqai was $62, two hours in the X-Trail was $31.
What's It Not Good At?
Annoyingly, you can't use your existing Hertz 24/7 membership and member fob to access Flexicar cars or make bookings. Instead, you'll need a specific Flexicar membership and the Flexicar tap-and-go smart card that goes with it. It's a bit of a pity that there's no deeper integration with Hertz, which runs a car-sharing network in Sydney and the Gold Coast already, but this isn't much of a complaint unless you're a regular interstate traveller and visitor to Melbourne.
Similarly, Flexicar doesn't have any pods out at either of Melbourne's two airports -- either the international-friendly Tullamarine or domestic-only Avalon. Car-sharing services are usually skewed towards short-trip, city-only users, but considering GoGet has a Sydney Airport pod it'd be nice to see Flexicar replicate that at at least Tullamarine.
Of the two cars that I got into with Flexicar, one -- the black-on-black Nissan Qashqai -- was a little bit dusty inside. No big deal, but it'd be nice if the company included some wet wipes with the vehicles to keep them clean without calling up and notifying the company. Flexicar has an app for iPad and iPhone that replicates the online, browser-based booking experience, but there's no Android equivalent. You can still use the website on your mobile, but it could be a little easier to use and obviously an app is the ideal way to do that while also securely storing your account, password and payment details.
Should You Buy It?
The annual cost of a Flexicar membership is likely to be the biggest sting to anyone considering signing up -- even if you don't do any driving in a calendar year, you're up for $70. That said, there's no joining fee which is the more tempting proposition of the two, and even on the most expensive plan all your expenses go back into driving credit. If you're the kind of person that can get an advantage out of car-sharing, then Flexicar is great.
Flexicar has a great deal of cars out in Melbourne and its surrounds -- there was never a time that I looked around and couldn't find one within maybe 10 minutes' walk of my hotel or the place I was at for a meeting. They're affordable especially if you're just jumping into an economy car for a quick hour or if you're filling up an entire day with travel. Not paying for fuel or for kilometres travelled is a great incentive, too.
Car-sharing in general is a great idea, as long as it's done right -- and Flexicar certainly ticks that box. If you're in Melbourne you're actually spoilt for choice for car-sharing services, as well as having far superior commuting options to Sydney, but you could certainly do a lot worse than to pick up a Flexicar membership.