With gas prices hovering comfortably over $3 per gallon, many Americans are looking a little enviously at the owners of hybrid cars. Now available in sizes from compact to SUV, hybrids get up to double the gas mileage of their traditional cousins. That can translate into major annual savings, whether or not you worry about global warming.
If you're curious, you can get the hybrid experience while you're traveling, too -- though you won't save money at it. Still, you can see and feel what it's like to drive or ride in a hybrid, giving you a closer idea of whether one of these fuel-efficient cars is for you.
In Los Angeles and Phoenix, you have to drive for miles to get pretty much anywhere. So that's fertile ground for the nation's biggest hybrid car rental fleet, EV Rental Cars, a partner of Fox Car Rental (tel. 800/225-4369; www.foxrentacar.com). EV, through Fox, rents three kinds of hybrids -- the tiny little Toyota Prius, which gets a mind boggling 60 miles per gallon in the city and pretty much ignited the hybrid craze, a hybrid Honda Civic which gets 49 mpg in city driving, and a Toyota Highlander SUV which gets 33 mpg in the city and 28 on the highway. Sign up at Fox's website for a coupon that gets you 5 percent off hybrid rentals.
Fox rents their hybrids at six airports (LA, San Jose, Oakland, San Francisco, Orange County and San Diego) and at a site in Phoenix. And yes, the hybrids do cost more to rent than comparable non-hybrid models. When we checked sample dates, the Civic rented for $40.36/day with tax and the Prius rented for $4.31/day with tax, compared to a $33.54/day non-hybrid Toyota Corolla. The Highlander cost a whopping $78.23/day, compared to a $44.90/day Jeep Commander.
Yes, you'll pay less for gas, but you'll have to drive quite a lot to make up for the difference in price. With a one-day rental, you'd have to drive 240 miles in the Civic to make back your $7 in gas savings over the Corolla. Think of the higher price as either an investment in the environment, or the cost of trying something new.
We've also heard Priuses may be available at a few Hertz locations in the US, but Hertz didn't return our calls about the issue. The other major US rental firms, Avis, Budget, Dollar, Alamo and National, said they don't rent hybrids. In Canada, you can rent a Prius from the national Discount Car and Truck Rental chain (tel. 800/263-2355; www.discountcar.com) and from (tel. 514/521-5771; www.viaroute.com) in Quebec.
Of course, anyone who rents a car in Manhattan is insane, and you could say the same for the perpendicular-parking districts of downtown San Francisco. So stick out your arm (or pick up the phone) and hail a hybrid cab, or call a hybrid car service.
You don't pay anything extra to get a hybrid cab on the streets of New York or San Francisco. In San Francisco, just call Luxor Cabs (tel. 415/282-4141) or Yellow Cab (tel. 415/626-2345), both recommended by Frommers.com, and politely request a hybrid when you reserve your car. (Watch out, they're in heavy demand.)
In New York where you can't call yellow cabs, the trouble is finding one. Of the thousands of cabs on New York's streets, only 27 are "green," according to the city Taxi & Limousine Commission. (That includes Ford Escape hybrid SUVs as well as cars that run on compressed natural gas.) Look for boxy, SUV-type cabs rather than the sedan-style Ford Crown Victorias that dominate city fleets. You might get lucky.
If you have extra dough, though, you can call Ozocar (tel. 866/696-5966; www.ozocar.com), New York's first "eco-luxury" private car service. Ozocar will pick you up from the airport or shuttle you around the city in a Prius equipped with Sirius Satellite Radio, Wi-Fi and an iBook computer for Internet access, or take larger parties in a larger hybrid car. But they charge significantly more than your standard New York car service; a trip to La Guardia airport is $50 and a trip to Kennedy Airport is $65, as compared to $31 and $46 respectively in a smog-generating Lincoln Town Car run by one of the more traditional car services.
North of the border, Vancouver is known for being an eco-friendly city, so it's not a surprise that they're dabbling in hybrid cabs, too. The city's oldest taxi company, Yellow Cab (tel. 604/681-1111; www.yellowcabonline.com/index2.html) runs some of its newest technology: 40 of their 208 cars are Prius hybrids. Look for the sleek Prius silhouette, or ask when you call them to make sure you'll get a "green" yellow cab.
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