Like many cyclists, I own a car. Truth be told, I own two.
Despite the fact that it’s rarely driven and sits mostly idle in my driveway there are times when the convenience of a car is tough to ignore – especially if your car is paid off, cheap on gas, and the insurance costs aren’t crippling (as mine is).
With that said, I still have trouble justifying the cost of gas, parking and the time spent sitting in traffic just to have a car available whenever I’d like, especially when I generally have more attractive means of transportation at my disposal. But there sure are times a car would be nice to have around…
car2go is a car-sharing service similar in spirit to the Bixi bike-sharing service. Spearheaded by Daimler AG in 2008, car2go currently serves 18 cities globally including 9 in North America — Calgary is one of the lucky three in Canada.
In short form, wherever you see a car2go Smart™ car, you can simply hop in and go. No need to worry about booking, fees, insurance, or parking. Just drive, park at your destination and walk away.
The car2go reality is slightly more complicated, but not much. It’s essentially a by-the-minute rental car without the overhead.
The main restriction of the service is that your trip needs to be completed in a pre-defined “Home Area.” Technically, you can leave the Home Area but won’t be able to end your trip (ie. stop paying) until you return and the car is safely parked. The other catch is that when you do park the car and end your trip, that car is fair game — It might be gone by the time you return.
In some situations returning to an empty stall isn’t really an option. For these cases car2go offers “stopovers” — it’s like telling a cabbie to “keep the meter running.” The car remains inaccessible to other car2go members, but you’re still charged by the minute. For longer trips there are discount hourly and daily rates.
I can’t speak for the other cities, but the Calgary Home Area is a pretty healthy chunk of downtown and it’s surrounding suburbs… More than enough real estate for the majority to get things done during the day.
A mid-day appointment on a sloppy winter day gave me the opportunity to give things a go. Some of my initial thoughts:
- Ebb & flow — As with any traffic, there is a certain cadence to the car2go service. Arriving at work prior to 8:00, most of the cars were still parked in the residential areas surrounding downtown. Unsurprisingly, evenings see cars migrate out of the downtown core towards residential areas and a reversal of that pattern is seen during the day.
- Location & reservation — Locating a vehicle (using the smartphone app), I quickly made a reservation since I wasn’t about to have my car taken by another traveling suburbanite as I walked to it. Making a reservation couldn’t be easier and essentially gives you a 30 minute window to unlock the car (15min reservation + 15min grace). I was easily able to find a handful of vehicles within a 5-8 minute walk from my office.
- Unlock & setup — After waving my membership card over the dash, I punched a few items into the in-car touchscreen and was off. It likely took me 30 seconds to get rolling.
- On the road — I’m not going to lie… The Smart cars that are part of the car2go service are gutless wonders. Initially I wasn’t sure it was going to be able to keep up with traffic! However, after a brief adjustment period I was good ;-)
- Wrapping up — Finishing the trip is as easy as finding parking… Depending on the time of day, that could be relatively easy, or not. Personally, I had to drive around the block a couple times (I’m not used to finding parking during the day) and that was it.
For a cycling commuter like myself car2go isn’t likely to have a daily presence, but it does have a particular draw for trips that occur during mid-day inclement weather (or mid-day laziness). I can also see obvious benefits for those living relatively close to the core as well as students… Imagine not having to work 3 jobs to afford a car only to constantly worry about it breaking down. Given this option, why an inner-city family would need to own more than one car is beyond me. Going car-free may even be a possibility for some.
Judging by the ‘migration patterns’ on the car2go map it appears that the service is being well used here in Calgary. I definitely have to lend a deep châpeau to Daimler AG who are pioneering this obviously successful service… A service, that will ultimately result in fewer cars being sold and is already resulting in fewer cars on the road.