Housing Complex

The Bikeshare of Carsharing Launches This Weekend

If Zipcar was the beginning of the carsharing revolution—funded, in fact, by a group called Revolution—then Car2Go marks the beginning of the new regime.

Starting tomorrow, when the Daimler-owned company launches at a splashy event off U Street, you'll be able to pick up a car on the street and return it whenever you're done with it, wherever you are, renting by the minute. Think Capital Bikeshare, but with blue-and-white Smartcars instead (and no docks).

My immediate question, when I heard about the point-to-point concept, was also similar to the management issue with Bikeshare: What if all the cars end up in places people don't want to pick them up? Is there some kind of balancing operation, like what Alta does with the clunky red bikes?

Apparently not. "I can tell you, it doesn't happen," says Nicholas Cole, the company's CEO, doing the media rounds today. Rather, people come into the downtown core during the day, and back to the neighborhoods at night, in a steady tidal motion. "There's a natural gravity...we just don't see cars off the grid."

The bigger question: Is this a Zipcar killer? Car2Go has a low barrier to entry, with just a one-time $35 signup cost and no annual or monthly fees, so it wouldn't be hard for Zipcar users to make the switch. And the flexibility of being able to park wherever, making use of transit for your ride back, is hard to beat.

But Zipcar still has the advantage of size*—Car2Go is launching with just 200 cars—and a multiplicity of models to choose from. Plus, it'll still get to hang on to a larger number of those reserved curbside parking spaces it thought it had lost in an auction, since Car2Go decided it didn't need them anyway (Hertz On Demand, the city's third carsharing service, will get a few as well). Which means that resource won't be diluted, as I'd feared.

The last thing I worried about: Since reservations aren't necessary, wouldn't you have people spotting the same car at once, and racing each other to grab it? Apparently that does happen. Watch it out there, people.


UPDATE, Monday, 3:38 p.m. – Zipcar has 800 cars in the Washington area, and 600 in D.C. proper. It'll be adding 40 cars per month over the summer.

  • Mrs. D

    Okay, so people go into downtown on weekday mornings and home on weekday evenings. I don't need a car to go to work...it's more hassle than it's worth, even if I can park it anywhere. I need a car to go to the grocery store and run other errands on the weekends. A smartcar is a fine size for this, but I have my doubts about being able to find one near the grocery, etc. stores. Even if there's one there when I leave for my errand (which I can get TO using transit for far less than their fees), it probably won't be there when I'm done shopping, and many if not most of the stores I frequent have limited on-street parking nearby, but have garages or parking lots if you bring, for instance, a Zipcar with you, so there's little incentive to leave one near major shopping centers, and big incentives for people to snatch up these cars when they *are* left near a shopping center. I don't think I'm unique in needing a car only for weekend (or weekday evening, I suppose) errands, so it'll be supremely interesting to see how this might work out. I certainly won't be canceling my Zipcar membership just yet.

  • http://urbanplacesandspaces.blogspot.com Richard Layman

    Probably Car2Go will be attractive to a certain subset of people interested in using carshare. Mrs. D makes good points related to the nature of the trip/why people use carshare to begin with. Likely those trips are less spontaneous and require more certainty about car availability, etc. and car2go might not adequately serve that audience.

    Plus Mrs. D is absolutely right, and this was one of the criticisms of Autolib in Paris, that you don't want people to use carshares to drive to work and return home. Those trips ideally are met by sustainable modes (walk-bike-transit).

  • Steve Fiens

    And the title of this article doesn't use the term "bike share" for nothing - Car2Go is much more like "self-driving" taxis than carsharing (which was designed to replace car ownership). It's a great service that will no doubt get users - but so too crack cocaine & Pringles chips. Doesn't mean that they're healthy and should be encouraged. Car2Go will replace taxi trips (may be enviro beneficial here, but impact on marginal work force), and bike sharing trips, as well as walking & transit - MUCH MORE than it will replace trips by (formerly) owned cars. But they won't do this research, instead relying on studies done for carsharing industry to generate their "environmental credentials".

  • Mrs. D

    The more I consider Mr. Layman's comment in context with their statement about travel patterns, the worse this seems. I know a few people who drive to work and run the gamut of metered parking...having to pay a good amount for the meter and move their car mid-day. Most of these people have access to transit, but prefer to drive. Now, they could pick up one of these bad boys, leave it at a meter all day without paying, and drive one home, probably for less than feeding the meter all day and without the hassle of having to move their car when the meter's up. Sure, there's risk of not being able to get a car home with this, but, like I said, they COULD take transit, so they're only penalized HAVING to use transit to get home if they can't find a car downtown (if they can't find one in their neighborhood in the morning, they can just drive their car like they've been doing). Because I know people willing to undertake the expense and hassle of metered parking, I'm sure there are others who would like to do the same, but find the barriers too high, and those barriers are reduced with this system. Incentivizing driving at peak times to and from transit-accessible locations is definitely a step backwards.

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