Is Parking (or Avoiding it) the Killer App for car2go?

Perhaps the most distinguishing characteristic of the car2go car-sharing system that debuted in Portland last week is one-way rentals.

One-way trips imply a very different parking model than the incumbent Zipcar. Zipcars have reserved spaces (for which Zipcar pays the City – at least for those in on-street meter zones). You have to end each trip back in the the reserved space. In-between you’re responsible for parking just as you would be with your own car.

But since car2go vehicles have no ‘home space’, they’ve cut a deal with the City. You can park in any legal on-street parking space, even in metered, time-restricted or permit zones (you are restricted from purpose-limited spaces, so you can’t park in loading zones or carpool-only spaces for example). Here’s the master permit the City issued (PDF, 19K).

[The City and car2go do ask you to avoid parking in half-hour or shorter time-restricted zones, but the permit does not actually enforce this.]

For this privilege car2go pays the City $1,009 per vehicle per year, an amount calculated as the sum of five area parking permits and an estimate of parking meter usage. car2go collects GPS data that will be used to calibrate the meter usage. The permit is up for renewal after six months and can be adjusted.

It seems to me that this unique set of privileges could make car2go disproportionally attractive for some types of trips. Parking in a meter zone without paying seems attractive, as would being able to ignore resident-only restrictions (I wonder if we’ll begin seeing all 250 cars showing up at Timbers games?).

On the other hand, there does have to be a space available to park in…

What do you think? Does the park-anywhere capability make you more interested in using car2go?

Are there unintended consequences that could arise from this – or are they mitigated by the idea that the vehicles won’t sit still for very long, and should be rented quickly by someone who will take them somewhere else?

Or am I just a complete wonk for even being interested in this…?

15 Comments

15 Responses to Is Parking (or Avoiding it) the Killer App for car2go?

  1. EngineerScotty
    April 9, 2012 at 10:22 pm Link

    or are they mitigated by the idea that the vehicles won’t sit still for very long, and should be rented quickly by someone who will take them somewhere else?

    Can you park a car but keep a reservation to it, so that if you go to Home Depot to pick up a load of something that won’t fit in the bus (but will fit in a car2go vehicle), you are assured the car will be waiting for you when you return–or once you park the car somewhere, it’s anybody’s for the taking?

    As long as a patron is being billed, I would think they would have exclusive use to the vehicle, even if it’s not being driven.

  2. Chris Smith
    April 9, 2012 at 11:09 pm Link

    Hard to imagine what you can get at Home Depot that will fit inside a little Smart Car :-)

    But you can’t end a rental outside the core service area (roughly NW 23rd to SE 82nd), which I don’t think includes any Home Depot stores. So you would need to keep the clock ticking while you were buying your lumber.

    There is a reservation capability, but I have not explored it yet to understand the details. The primary model is walk up and rent spontaneously.

  3. dwainedibbly
    April 10, 2012 at 3:20 am Link

    In a way, it’s a more “modern” model than ZipCar. It’ll be interesting to see if ZipCar, et al, respond by doing something similar.

    ZipCar will always have an advantage in that they have vehicles that you can actually use to haul things. Car2Go is owned, at least in part, by Mercedes, who owns Smart, so you can bet that there is some sort of promotional write-off, etc, that makes the FourTwo advantageous financially. If I was only going to have 1 car share membership, it would have to be ZipCar. The option of getting a wagon or a pickup is too important for me or (I imagine) anyone living car-free or car-light.

    I have to wonder if Car2Go has really looked at the car share market and do they understand why people use it. By employing such small vehicles, they’re missing out on a big part of the market.

  4. EngineerScotty
    April 10, 2012 at 9:55 am Link

    I find it rather interesting that the cost of a “season ticket” for parking as charged to car2go ($1009) is almost exactly the same as a TriMet annual pass ($1012).

    Me, I’d rather forgo the extra cup of coffee that $3 would buy… :)

  5. Jim Lee
    April 10, 2012 at 1:57 pm Link

    Smart cars bombed in in the retail market, so maybe this is a ploy by Daimler to salvage something.

  6. Douglas K.
    April 10, 2012 at 5:57 pm Link

    Yeah, I couldn’t see any use for Car2Go. The only time I ever need a car is for a cargo run, which means Zipcar or some other company where I have the potential to rent an SUV or a pick-up if necessary.

    I was wondering how Car2Go gets the cars where they’re needed? Do they have employees to drive cars around and drop them off at specific places at certain times of day in anticipation of use patterns?

  7. zefwagner
    April 10, 2012 at 10:44 pm Link

    I also think Daimler is trying to find a use for a ton of unsold Smart Cars. I used Car2go for the first time last week and while it was very convenient and served my purpose well, I have to say it is easily the worst car I have ever driven. Terrible automatic transmission, the optional manual drive isn’t much better, bad turning, super-small interior, etc. On the bright side, it is easy to park!

    I’m not too concerned about the lack of a parking charge since patrons are being charged quite a high price per minute and hour anyway. The price signal is still there, and the parking cost is bundled in. The free parking doesn’t really make it more attractive for things like games and movies, because you can’t hold the car without paying for it the whole time. If you take your hold off, someone else might take it. I imagine people will try their chances for awhile and there will be a mad dash for the cars at the ends of games. That should be fun.

    In any case, I used it to go to a friends house in the evening when transit wasn’t running, and it only took about 5 minutes so the cost was comparable to taking the bus. I had a few drinks so I just went ahead and walked on home. I think this will be a common use of car2go. People can head to bars when they care more about meeting people at a certain time. Then they can walk or take a taxi back home. Having to pay for the car and not owning the car may act as nice disincentives to drive drunk.

  8. Dave H
    April 10, 2012 at 10:52 pm Link

    I keep seeing their cars both near my home and near my office, and given that it’s a 35 minute bus ride that I can drive in about 12 minutes or cover on a bike in 20, I’m not sure why I wouldn’t consider it. Maybe I’d only use it on days the weather is bad, but it still seems like a pretty good deal. Considering TriMet only saves me 20 minutes over walking it’s already tough for me to justify taking the bus.

    With how gutted TriMet has become it seems carshare services are just becoming more and more appealing. With any more service cuts it will be faster for me to walk anyway, so I hope Car2Go does well. It’d be nice to have an option like that.

  9. cb
    April 11, 2012 at 7:08 pm Link

    I want to try it out, but the deal-breaker for me is the lack of dedicated parking for it. I live off NW 23rd. Do you know how much it sucks to find parking there? That’s the awesome thing about Zipcar – I always know I have a place to park it when I come back home. There’s no way I’m going to use one of these other cars, and then drive around for a 1/2 hour, a 1/2 hour I’m paying additional for, looking for a place to park it again.

  10. Matthew Denton
    April 12, 2012 at 8:09 pm Link

    I think the real advantage is the one way rental: If I have to go someplace, stay there for two hours and then go back, with Zipcar that waiting time is most of the cost, where as with this you can just end the reservation and it might not be there when you get back, (in which case, you go find another one.) If you do park and keep the reservation open, depending on where you park, (i.e. in a metered spot,) it might be cheaper than Zipcar anyways…

    The “per minute” feature is also pretty cool. With Zipcar you get half hour blocks, so I don’t just grab one “whenever”, I put some thought into it…

    That said, the home range is only about a 30 minute bike ride across, and doesn’t include either my house or my office so it isn’t terribly practical for me personally. I do note that a lot of the cars seem to have ended up right on N Killingsworth, which is probably a sign that people are returning them from my neighborhood to there, (hopefully Car2Go is paying attention.) Of course, one of the ads shows the car at Cathedral Park, (way outside the home range.)

  11. Paul
    April 16, 2012 at 2:44 pm Link

    I’ve used Car2Go 5 or 6 times already since it launched and it really does come in handy and fill in the gaps between Zipcar, transit and biking for me. I usually bike, but sometimes I take transit – especially if it’s pouring rain. Even in the little Smart cars, I can move more stuff than my bike and the fact that they’re all over the place makes it quite easy to walk up to one and take it and leave it when i’m done. Transit is SLOW and impractical for some trips. Or in Portland, many trips! 2 transfers and an hour and ten minutes to go 3 miles can be ridiculous for some trips, when I can do it in 10 minutes and parallel park in the tiniest places. I can also take one to a MAX station and finish my trip by transit to make the connection much faster than normal. 15 minutes waiting between transfers sucks.

    I think this model is going to be hugely successful in the car-sharing world. I’m now waiting for bike share to launch. More tools for living make it a lot easier now owning a car.

  12. bjorn
    April 17, 2012 at 3:53 pm Link

    One thing that has been an advertising point for smart car is that you can park it by backing off the street so you are perpendicular to traffic, allowing parking in some very tight spots. Does anyone know if this is actually allowed, the only ticket I have seen on a smart car so far is where someone parked if facing the wrong way on a one way street.

  13. SV
    April 18, 2012 at 3:02 pm Link

    I’ve used car2go I think seven times now, mostly when I’m running late and a car is within four or five blocks. Of the seven times I have used it though, on two occasions I couldn’t end my rental because of “connection error; park somewhere else” — has anyone else had this problem? Both in downtown and in my neighborhood this has happened, and it was excruciatingly annoying. The cars end up sitting in a dead zone for some time before the car2go fairy comes and moves them. I work downtown and have seen more than a handful of cars with “no connection” errors on the display, so it is likely an ongoing issue and hopefully gets resolved. After those two incidents I am more apprehensive to use the service. As for the parking not facing the curb, it would be a violation. You must face the vehicle in the direction of travel, so no luck backing in to get a tight space.

  14. Popcorn
    April 26, 2012 at 4:01 pm Link

    Yea, like the above poster, I have also had to deal with the “no connection” issue.

    For those who don’t know. Here is a summary of what it’s like renting a Car2go off the street.

    Car2go begins charging you by the minute as soon as you place your card over the windshield eletronic detector. Then you enter the car, and as you sit down, on dashboard area you find a GPS/Nav device where you must acknowledge some legal staments and answer a few questions regarding the condition of the car:

    Entering the Vehicle

    1) First, you have to enter your pin

    2) You must agree to the use of the car and the legal binding agreements attahed to the use of the car.

    3) Then you need to answer some yes/no questions on the condition of the car’s interior/exterior.

    4) Then you must take the key out of one area and insert it into another area.

    5) Then you can start the car and take off.

    Exting the Vehicle

    1) When you arrive to your destination, and as you turn the car off, the GPS/NAV will seem to be frozen like an old computer, and you will have to wait (while you are still being charged for the rental, unfortunatley) a few minutes which than after you can then answer a list of questions again, regarding the condition and the operation of the vehicle.

    2)Then you need to take the key out of the ingnition and put it back into the original palce you found it.

    3) Grab your stuff.

    4) Exit the car

    Of course you are still being charged until you place your membership card over the windshield electronic detector. Which like the above poster mentioned, can sometimes take a couple more mintues because of “no connection” errors.

    So, what some people say is a 10-12 minute trip in their own car driving becomes more like a 20 minute (or more) charge on your account via Car2go.

    Oh and don’t bother bringing a CD or an mp3 player so you can listen to your won music; ain’t gonna happen. In my car at least, didn’t have any AUX input or CD player. But, it did have a GPS/NAV screen that lit up the bright blue Car2go logo while I was able to listen to a Car2go radio preset. shoot, I coudn’t even lower the freakin volume because of a glitch.

    Car2Glitch.

  15. jeff
    April 29, 2012 at 10:21 am Link

    The one-way rental model could lead to an interesting competition. Two teams could compete to see how many cars they can assemble and keep in a certain part of the city–i.e. first team to get 25 cars parked within 2 blocks of the team’s “home base” wins. Of course, this would also be completely contrary to the spirit of Car2go.

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