Starting today, Yalies will be able to rent cars on an hourly basis from Zipcar Inc., a car-sharing company that allows customers to walk up to vehicles and drive them away with little more than a membership card.

Zipcar, which has entered into a three-year partnership with Yale, will station six cars around campus available for self-service use 24 hours a day. Customers use a company-issued card — which relies on the same radio-frequency technology as a Yale ID — to unlock and use the Zipcar-owned vehicles for an hourly rate. All gas, insurance and maintenance costs are included in an annual membership charge of $35.

The University joined the program in an effort to reduce the number of student and faculty cars on campus and to provide Yalies with cheaper, greener transportation solutions. Two cars will tentatively be located at the Medical School, with another four on Prospect Street, on Whitney Avenue and near Payne Whitney Gymnasium.

Unlike rental car companies, the Zipcar program allows students to reserve a car merely to travel to an interview, go to dinner out of town, or run errands, director of business development for Zipcar Adam Brophy said. On average, Zipcar members save $534 monthly by using the car-sharing program instead of owning their own vehicle, he said.

Holly Parker, director of sustainable transit at Yale, said that after comparing the Zipcar membership fee with the costs of personal ownership and rental car companies, the Zipcar fee is “pretty much a wash.”

Zipcar also allows all drivers over the age of 18 to become members at no additional charge, although anyone under 21 must have two years of driving experience and no penalties in order to qualify. This feature of the program makes the company particularly attractive on college campuses, where the majority of drivers would not normally be eligible to rent a car, Brophy said.

“It’s a big draw for universities,” he said. “They’re all adopting environmental initiatives, and car-sharing is a very green, very sustainable program. One of our cars can serve around 50 members.”

Parker said the program is one of several initiatives, including the Yale Shuttle, intended to limit the number of personal cars on campus. The University is struggling to offer convenient parking spaces in the campus parking garages and hopes this new program will free up space, she said.

“It’s a way to support students in the choice to not bring a car to campus while reducing Yale’s impact on the environment,” she said. “Hopefully, it will encourage people not to drive alone to campus.”

But Parker said the program was not publicized well enough this year to discourage students from bringing their cars to campus. Although the partnership was launched over the summer, students were not informed, and many have already paid for annual parking. Because of the late start, Parker said, the program will really only benefit those students who do not have a car on campus, giving them more options for affordable transportation.

Dana Rosenzweig ’09 brought a car to campus this year for the first time, planning to travel occasionally for her job, weekend trips, and other activities that are unavailable on Yale’s immediate campus. She paid $600 to park her car in a garage for the year, not including gas and insurance costs.

“I definitely wouldn’t have brought my car if I had known about Zipcar,” she said. “It’s significantly cheaper, and I probably won’t use my car that much anyway. I’ve already paid more than the membership fee in just parking meters!”

Zipcar launched seven years ago and began partnering with universities in 2001, starting with Harvard and MIT, where users pay $7.65-$9 per hour depending on their membership plan. Zipcar has the largest university program of any car-sharing company.

Today the service has 65,000 members and a fleet of 1,600 vehicles in seven markets, including San Francisco, Chicago, and Toronto.

Parker said the city of New Haven is also planning to start a partnership with Zipcar. The details of the agreement are not yet finalized.