A new car-sharing pilot program at the Princeton Junction train station makes it easier for commuters to get to their destinations, and NJ Transit officials are hoping the service attracts more people to mass transit.

Zipcar, the nation’s largest car-sharing company, has partnered with NJ Transit, and began offering the service in April at five stations across the state, including Princeton Junction. Zipcar enables members to reserve a vehicle online or by phone and pick it up at a reserved parking location of the driver’s choice when he or she arrives at the station. A Zipcar member can take the rail service to Princeton Junction, pick up a reserved vehicle, and travel, for example, to a business meeting in Princeton. The member can then return the car to the same spot when he or she is done with the trip.

Commuters can register online for the program at www.zipcar.com. There is a one-time application fee of $25. Members are given an access card, called a Zipcard, which opens the vehicle at the time of the reservation and also serves as the ignition key. Rental includes insurance, a gas card, and reimbursements for typical car maintenance needs.

There are a variety of plans available. Zipcar members can pay from $50 to $250 a month, based on their estimates of how much they will use the cars. All of these fees are applied toward usage. The higher monthly fees bring slightly lower hourly or daily charges. Pre-pay $50 and it costs $9.45 an hour or $65.70 a day to drive a car.

Each reservation, whether it is for one hour or one day, includes 180 free miles. Each mile beyond that costs 35 cents. Sign on for $250 a month, and 180 free miles are thrown in. Plans can be changed once every six months without a penalty. Changes beyond that incur a $25 charge. Housemates and family members can be added to an account for $25.

NJ Transit spokesman Joe Dee says the NJT got on board with the idea to “help people who might otherwise choose not to take NJ Transit because their ultimate destination is too far away from the station,” he said. “Now, they see they have an option. This is a goal of NJ Transit system-wide to make public transportation more convenient.”

He said the idea also expands the reach of New Jersey Transit by helping customers take advantage of more than one mode of travel during a trip. And if the service is popular, NJ Transit might look to expand upon the pilot program in the future, he says.

According to the Zipcar website, the two cars available at the Princeton Junction train station are the Mazda 3 Moulin and the Volkswagen Rabbit Raul. The cars are located in the surface lot that is closest to the Manhattan-bound track at the station, the site states. Members can reserve a car online, and choose to pay hourly or daily rates, which vary by day of the week. Members are responsible for paying tolls, but Zipcar pays for the gas and covers insurance.

— Cara Latham

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