Monday, January 30, 2012

What Will New car2go Service Look Like?

car2go's Smart Fortwo car (source Flickr: swirlspice)
Soon, District residents will have an additional choice when it comes to car sharing services in the city. car2go is owned by German car maker Daimler. It is similar to Boston-based Zipcar, but operates drastically different in some important ways. I contacted car2go for an operational start date and learned that there isn't one at this time. Otherwise, here's a quick look at what to expect.

Operation: car2go operates on a membership model like Zipcar. If you want to rent a car, you must be a registered member and have a special keycard and PIN for access. Registration is $35. The big difference is that with car2go, you can make one way trips. That is, you can retrieve a car at one location and leave it at the next; rental over. No need to return to a specific parking space.

For example, I could walk to a car on Mt Pleasant Street, drive to the Uptown in Cleveland Park, catch a move and ride the H4 bus back home. I can theoretically park anywhere (legal) in Cleveland Park and just leave the car there for the next renter. car2go takes care of the parking, cleaning and most importantly, refueling. Of course, you can refuel during your rental using car2go's gas cards located inside the car; much like Zipcar.

You can reserve online ahead of time or just find a car via car2go website and access it for instant use; "on demand" as they call it.

Cost: The cost structure is just as simple as Zipcar's hourly rate. However, car2go charges by the minute; 35 cents per minute plus tax. So, that 11 minutes it might take to drive to and find a parking spot in front of the Uptown would come to $3.85 plus tax. They capped the cost per hour at $12.99 and the cost for 24 consecutive hours at $65.99.  Zipcar's rates vary depending on the model of car and time of day, but most of my rentals are in the $8-$10 per hour range. Like Zipcar, car2go also charges more for long trips; any trip over 150 miles triggers a higher per hour rate.

Also, there seems to be no annual fee (just a one time registration fee). That is great. For someone who uses car share less than once per month, I could get into not paying a membership fee every year.

Location: Last year car2go bid on and won many on street parking spaces that previously belonged to Zipcar. So, there will be some dedicated parking spots for the cars. Mount Pleasant has one at 3010 Mt Pleasant St NW (next to Embassy condos). Here are the other car2go dedicated parking spaces (PDF). 

The "operation area" is where you are allowed to park a car after your rental period has concluded. This area includes most of the District (map here), with a few restricted areas on federal properties. For example, I could rent a car in Chinatown and drive to National airport to pick up a friend, but I couldn't end my rental there; I'd have to stay on the clock, return to District and park in a legal space, where the rental would end. The "stopover" function will let you park the car, but continue your rental, blocking others from renting it while you are away.

As for metered and zone parking, their website indicates that you can park in any "non- restricted Metered curbside parking space or Residential Parking Permit location in any zone throughout the operating area." That is, you do not have to have a particular zone sticker or pay the meter. Sweet. You can not park in any time restricted spots like rush hour restricted parking zones, or loading zones. Also, no parking on snow emergency routes (like 16th St near Mount Pleasant) or street sweeping streets on the day of sweeping.

Since cars are liable to be left at non-designated spots though, there has to be a way to find the closest car to your location when you need it. car2go has an online car finder map (empty now because the service isn't active) and car finder applications for Android devices and iPhone/iPad devices.

Cars: Here's where Zipcar and car2go really differ. Zipcar has all manor of cars, from Civics to pick-ups to Volvos and BMW's. car2go has the Smart car. That's it. These are the tiny "microcars" you may have seen around town in recent years. They seem to be popular in parking challenged DC. This is the "Fortwo" model. It is small, seats two people and has limited storage in the hatchback. At less than 9 feet in length, you'll find more parking spaces, but boy, is this thing small. I've never driven one, but it looks utilitarian. No moving apartments with this thing though; strictly groceries and small packages.

This service is has enough differences with Zipcar that I can see both surviving. There may even be a number of residents who choose to join both companies as members. As for getting more people into cars and putting more cars on the road; I'm not for that. But, the beauty of these services is that they allow for a car-ownership-free lifestyle with shared access to a vehicle when the need arises. Looking forward to the launch and DC's reaction.