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Test driving the Car2Go program

Friday, 2 September 2011 | Tags: , , , ,

You may have seen the white Smart fortwo cars with blue trim racing around your city or parked on a residential street near you. Car2Go is a car sharing program that began in Ulm Germany in 2009 and came to Vancouver a few months ago. Although I already have a small, fuel-efficient Mini Cooper, this free-floating rental system caught my attention for the potential cost savings.

Here’s how it works

You sign up online at www.car2go.com and pay a one-time $35 membership fee. (There is also a yearly $2 charge that’s donated to a local, community-based charity.)

Car rentals are 35 cents per minute. (Well, actually it’s 39.2 cents per minute when you factor in the tax.) But after that you don’t pay for parking, gas or insurance.

Once the company clears your driving record, you receive your membership card in the mail and you’re ready to start driving.

You go online to find a Car2Go nearest you, walk to the car, swipe your pass card, and the doors unlock.

Once you are in the vehicle, the minutes start counting down. There is a computerized system that requires you to answer some questions about the cleanliness of the vehicle, report any visible damage, etc., before you start driving.

The system is much cheaper than taking a taxi. One rush hour trip downtown in a Car2Go (about a 15-minute drive) cost me only $5.49. Including a tip, a taxi would have been about three times as much. Plus, I love the idea of jumping into a car, driving it around, parking it, and then simply walking away, especially as a one-way ticket to dinner when drinks are on the menu. (The plan being to take a cab home.)

[Image courtesy of Car2Go]

Time is money

One important piece of advice: keep your eye on the clock. On my first test drive around the neighbourhood, I spent too much time getting settled. I probably drove for only about 5 minutes, but the meter ended up coming in at 13 minutes. I suggest getting in and getting down to business asap. Save the lip gloss application for after you’ve logged off!

When you arrive at your destination, you park, swipe your card again and the meter stops running. (You can hold onto the car and return it later but remember, you’re paying for the time away.)

In residential neighbourhoods, you can leave the car in any permit-only residential spot. Or, if there are no permit-only signs near you, you can park it wherever, as long as you adhere to parking regulations. In busier commercial areas, there are dedicated parking spots, usually in paid parking lots.

Yes reservations

You can also reserve a car ahead of time and hold onto it for as long as you like. There is a $12.99 per hour and $65.99 per day maximum charge. You aren’t responsible for filling up the car but if you do, you get credits on your account. (There’s a designated credit card in the vehicle.)

One evening when I planned to jump into a Car2Go, the pick-up was easy, as there were two cars within two blocks of me. But where to park it? The nearest designated spot was about four, long, west-to-east, blocks from the restaurant where I was headed. Not ideal in my stilettos.

And just now as I’m logging onto the Car2Go finder, I see there isn’t a car within 10 blocks of me.

A few other things to keep in mind:

  • The operating area is limited. In my case, it’s just central Vancouver (Powell Street to 41st Avenue, and Blanca to Nanaimo St.) If you live outside of the operating area, you won’t find cars parked near you. You can take the car outside of the operating area, but the meter doesn’t stop until you bring it back and park it in the zone.

  • The vehicles only fit two people and there’s limited cargo space. Okay for a few bags of groceries but not so great for a furniture buying trip to Ikea.

  • No pets allowed. I get it, but this one’s a biggie for me. I often drop my dog Ruby at the doggy daycare on my way out for the day.

  • While there are Car2Go apps for Apple products, there are none yet for the Blackberry. The app is important for finding a free car while you’re out. (App developers, are you reading this?)

UPDATE!

After reading my blog, the Car2Go folks tweeted:
@car2goVancouver:@annaandkristina Try this site to locate a car2go on a blackberry- just enter the street address with city http://d9t.de/nearest/m_manual.”

Yay, it works! Thanks for the quick response!

  • Finally, it’s one step closer to total Big Brother domination; the company knows exactly where and when you pick up and drop off the vehicles.

A solid concept

Despite these potential downsides, the concept is great and I hope to see an expansion – more cars and more designated parking spots in high traffic areas. (City of Vancouver, want to reduce the number of vehicles on the road by promoting car-sharing? How about some more free parking on downtown streets!?!)

Car2Go is great for those without wheels, but even as a car owner, I will continue to make use of Car2Go, when it makes financial sense. I may just have to carry a pair of flats in my evening bag.

Car2Go in Gastown. [Image courtesy of Car2Go]

 

Join the conversation

On 09 3, 2011 at 09:59:25 AM, Heather S. said:

I belong to Car2Go, as just before they launched, they had a free sign up (no $35 fee). So really, I had nothing to lose because if I never used it, I wasn’t out any money. I live just on the southern border of the Car2Go area, and I don’t have a car. I have to say that my experience has been brilliant. When you’re transit dependent, having occasional access to a car is amazing. It makes perfect sense for that once a month heavy-things grocery shop. Normally I can get by with a few things here and there, but at some point, I need laundry detergent, toilet paper, and 1L of olive oil. It’s perfect for one way trips. I transit to Costco, and drive home. While yes, it’s expensive if you’re looking for a long term rental, that’s not the goal of Car2Go. It’s made for short jaunts, usually one way. It’s cheaper to drive a Car2Go from my house to downtown than it is to park a car downtown for 2 hours. That’s pretty incredible. And since almost all of downtown is resident parking only (especially the West End), you sometimes end up closer to your destination than ever before possible. I’m totally behind Car2Go!

On 09 16, 2011 at 08:48:41 AM, Hasse C. said:

About two months ago I decided to test a similar concept, but with bikes, here in Toronto. I loved BIXI so much, that I ended up getting a year’s subscription. It has similar pros to the Car2Go program: You can ride your bike when you go for drinks and walk/taxi it back, it’s so much cheaper and faster than public transit or a taxi, no need to pay for parking. However it also has similar cons: the coverage area is limited, you must dock it at a designated spot, or the clock keeps on ticking… however a year’s membership ($95) does allow an unlimited number of rides (30 mins or less). Longer rides charge you for each additional 1/2 hour. I hardly ever go anywhere without a bike. I even did an experiment whereby I went with my BF to Montreal on VIA and did not take any form of public transportation there, other than use their local BIXI network; we saw the whole city on foot or on a bike… and it was the best trip ever. The added bonus is that it’s a great form of daily exercise.

On 10 13, 2011 at 01:17:03 PM, Kristina M. said:

Thanks, Hasse. Very interesting to hear about the bike program! 

 

 

On 03 21, 2012 at 12:45:11 AM, Royston T. said:

I’ve been using Car2Go since last summer and I was frustrated with using my Blackberry to find a car. So I finally designed a site just for Blackberry smartphones: http://goo.gl/DeYub 

It will use the GPS to locate your position and display all available vehicles in the city. No details on the vehicles but dead accurate on their positions.

 

On 03 21, 2012 at 09:33:24 AM, Kristina M. said:

That’s great Royston, can’t wait to try it out. I love it when people take initiative and solve a problem themselves! Meanwhile, back in my car2go, I do have a frustration to share. If you’re using a car2go on busy nights and driving downtown, be aware that designated parking spots can be scarce. Especially on hockey nights. I had to drive around to find a space, as the lot I was planning on parking in was full. It was quite a hike to walk back to my original destination. (Yes, in heels, again.) Hopefully as the program grows, this will be less of a problem.

 

 

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