Smarter ways to get around town
Tired of staring at taxi partitions and brake lights? Here are faster and cheaper options for getting from one meeting to the next.
By Sidra Durst, Business 2.0 Magazine

(Business 2.0 Magazine) - So you survived the line at airport security, the elbow jousting on an oversold flight, and the marathon trek from Gate 99 to the curb. Too bad the misery doesn't end there.

Truth is, making it across town from your 8 o'clock breakfast to your 9:30 sales presentation can be even more trying than flying across the country.

Now for the good news: A variety of services have sprung up to help you get where you're going in cities from coast to coast. Some can save you time. Others will save you money. All are likely to save something even more important: your sanity.

Speedier rentals

After years of adding nothing to the experience while adding plenty to your bill ($6-a-gallon gas charges, redundant insurance coverage, etc.), rental-car companies are finally focused on helping you move faster.

First came those handy GPS units; now, fast-pass sensors to help you zip through congested toll plazas just like the taxis and commuters. Avis, Budget, and Hertz are all equipping their cars with the devices, which cost about $2 extra per day (plus toll charges).

Meanwhile, Alamo is shaving precious minutes off your travel time with self-service check-in kiosks - a first for the rental industry - in Dallas, Las Vegas, and Jacksonville, Fla., with plans to roll out the service in four more cities by year-end.

The virtues of sharing

Paying for a three-day rental when you really need the car for only a few hours?

For up to $50 a year, membership in a car-sharing service like Flexcar or Zipcar gives you access to pay-by-the-hour wheels in 10 major cities. Simply reserve a vehicle online, pick it up at a designated location, and return it to the same spot when you're done. There are no paperwork hassles or annoying upsells, and hourly rates start at just $7.25, including gas and insurance.

"It's cheaper and easier, and you don't have to fill up the tank when you're done," says Sarah Greene, HR manager at Boston-based energy management services firm EnerNoc, whose 64 employees use Zipcar on trips to company offices in Los Angeles, New York, and San Francisco.

Mass customization

Often the best way to get around is the way locals do: via public transportation. But how to do it without the local knowledge?

That's yet another question that Larry and Sergey want to answer. With Google's (Charts) still-in-beta Transit Trip Planner, you type in your location, your destination, and a departure or arrival time, and it will tell you which transit line to take, where to catch it, and where to get off or make a connection - all superimposed over a traditional, satellite, or hybrid map.

Now being tested using the transit system of Portland, Ore., the service is set for a global rollout later this year. Until then, try downloading to your Palm- or Pocket PC-powered handheld program called Metro, a nifty piece of freeware that provides route, fare, and schedule information in as many as 42 languages for transit systems in more than 350 cities worldwide.

Above the crowds

What's the best way to get through bumper-to-bumper traffic? By going over it, natch.

In March, U.S. Helicopter brought airport shuttle service back to New York after a 20-year hiatus. For $159, you can get from JFK to Wall Street in eight minutes. On the return, if you're flying American, you'll also get a boarding pass, baggage check-in, and security clearance.

The company plans to expand its service to Chicago, Los Angeles, and other major U.S. cities within 18 months. In traffic-snarled Phoenix, travelers headed for the campuses of Boeing (Charts) and General Motors (Charts) in nearby Mesa can already be spared the hour-long commute from Sky Harbor Airport. Silver State Helicopters charges $90 for the 15-minute hop. Top of page

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