30 Days With Car2Go

by Mark Wellborn

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I have never owned a car, something that is likely seen as a triumph by certain people and an embarrassment by others. And, I have never been interested in any car-sharing service. That is, until I signed up for car2go in August.

Chances are you have seen the little guys of DC’s car2go fleet tooling around the city. The blue and white, two-seater smart cars are usually squeezed in a small space on a downtown block between two normal-sized cars or looking diminutive next to a pick-up truck at a stoplight. There are 300 “cars 2 go” roaming the DC streets, but given that more than 8,000 people in DC have signed up for the service, that is bound to increase in the coming months. This article will look at my first month using the service, from usage to cost to the pros/cons that were revealed.

In short, here is how car2go works. Users pay a one-time $35 fee and then are sent a card in the mail that allows them to unlock cars around the city via an electronic panel on the windshield. A mobile app on smartphones allows users to locate cars within their vicinity. The cost for using the cars is 37 cents a minute plus tax, and car2go covers gas and insurance.

In the first month, I used the service 19 times for trips ranging in distance from 0.6 miles to 4.1 miles. My shortest trip lasted six minutes and my longest was 34. I used the car to run errands, visit friends, for business purposes, to go to the doctor and regularly for nights out on the town. During that time, I realized that there are two stand-out features that will result in car2go being in every major U.S. city within the next 2-3 years.

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The first is the parking arrangement. You can park these little guys almost anywhere. Thanks to the company paying the DC government a hefty $793,000, users can park at meters (and not have to pay) and in any zoned parking area in DC. In a city where parking is increasingly difficult to find, the cars open up a world of options for drivers. In addition to being immune from the aforementioned restrictions, the size of the cars means that spaces that you would regularly pass up in a normal-sized car become prime spots. In my first 30 days, I never had to drive around the block looking for a spot. I regularly squeeze in spots that areq about half the size of a regular car; one night, I snuck into a five-foot space right in front of the bar I was going to on 14th Street.

The second reason that car2go will soon be everywhere is that the cars don’t have a round-trip requirement. If you like, you can pick up a car, drive it for three minutes, and then park it and be done with your trip. (Warning: All your friends will admonish you for being extremely lazy if you do this.) In all seriousness, trips with car2go are virtually all one-way, which means that you can drive it to a Friday evening destination, enjoy yourself and then catch a cab home later on. You can also use it to commute to work, without having to pay for parking or deal with it if you end up having plans later on.

Now, the service does have its downsides. For one, the car size means that trips are limited to two people. Also, the reliability of finding a car2go nearby is very hit or miss. Sometimes, there are three options within 200 meters of your address; other times there isn’t a car within half a mile. And, the farther you get from downtown DC, the less prevalent the cars.

Lastly, this service is very easy to abuse. I sometimes found myself hopping in for an 8-minute trip that I easily could’ve done on foot. While part of this has to do with the novelty of the service, which is wearing off, it is very easy to rack up miles in the blue and white cars, which consequently means racking up credit card charges. The 19 trips in August cost me $115.

Still, at an average of $6 a trip, the service is cheaper than taking a taxi or Uber. This, along with the ease of parking and use, will mean that you will soon be seeing cars2go all over the place.

See other articles related to: car2go, car sharing

This article originally published at http://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/30_days_with_car2go/6095

19 Comments

  1. Circle Thomas said at 9:29 am on Tuesday October 2, 2012:

    I’ve used the service exactly once. That trip was such a disaster, it was both my first AND my last trip.

    Let’s start with the car itself. Smart fortwos are absolute garbage, absolutely atrocious little things to drive. They’re painfully loud, they bounce over potholes, they have absolutely no power and the brakes barely work. There’s a reason its Consumer Reports lowest-scoring new vehicle today (29 out of a possible 100 points, for those keeping score at home).

    But since Mercedes-Benz owns not only smart, but also Car2Go, with the smarts you’re stuck. Benz needs to sell these hideous things here to meet certain EPA regulations (the S-Class is a guzzler), and since no in their right mind buys one, dumping them into Car2Go is what the company is left with.

    Once we found our smart (or, as I like to call it, our dumb), checking-in to actually get the car started turned out to be a fairly arduous process. Unlike ZipCar, which apparently has a 3G-based connection to the Internet via Verizon (plus redundant tech inside the system in case you’re in a garage with no signal), Car2Go uses an Edge-based, non-redundant connection which means it can take up to five minutes to get the car unlocked (as we—and plenty of others on Yelp, as I found out later, experienced).

    This REALLY became a problem when we got to our destination (the wilds of Capitol Hill near Eastern Market), and tried to end our use. The problem? No signal. So, we called Car2Go…and got put on hold. After 10 minutes of waiting, we went looking for another parking spot. After another failed attempt (still on hold), we finally found a spot where we could get rid the damn thing (still on hold). 25 minutes in with no one picking up, we gave up. THIS is customer service?

    To add insult to injury, we both tweeted (nothing) and Facebook-posted about how horrible our experience was. A FULL FOUR DAYS later, we got a half-assed apology left on my voicemail. That’s it. I’m still waiting for the 15 minutes of wasted time to be credited back to my account.

    Overall, the service can be summed up with one word: SHIT. I highly recommend everyone stick to car-sharing done right, AKA “ZipCar”.

  1. SL said at 10:23 am on Tuesday October 2, 2012:

    I’ve used Car2Go since they first launched and have never had problems. I’ve taken 20+ trips and it’s never taken longer than about a minute to get going. You just hold your card up to the reader, the car unlocks, you punch in your pin number and you’re done. It’s a great taxi alternative - about $8 for me to get home from work vs. about $12 for a taxi, and the best part: no taxi driver! The cars are pretty basic, but I love how tiny they are. I find it means you can find a (free) parking space almost anywhere you go. I’ve called customer service a couple times - once when I picked up a car that already had a parking ticket on it and I wanted to report it, and another time when the stereo wasn’t working in the car. Both times I was given 15 minutes of free driving time for my trouble - about $20. Not bad! Regarding Car2Go vs. ZipCar - I have no interest in ZipCar since I already own a car. The advantage of Car2Go for me is the short rentals and ability to leave the car anywhere. I also love that with Car2Go if I’m not renting a car, I’m not paying anything - I joined for free when the service was new, and there are no monthly or annual membership fees.

  1. AP said at 10:44 am on Tuesday October 2, 2012:

    ZipCar has probably seen their revenues take a nose dive as more and more people are using Car2Go.  I’ve been using Car2Go regularly for about six months now and have not had any problems.  How many times have I used ZipCar in the past six months?  Probably once.

    Car2Go is incredibly convenient.  The one-way trips really make it worth it.  Not having to pay for the car when you’re not using it or having to return it to the same place you got it from is HUGE.  True, the cars don’t drive all that great, but who needs a premium sedan when you’re only going to be in it for 10 minutes?  I had one issue with the card reader not connecting.  I simply moved the car like 10 feet forward and tried it again…it worked.  So the signal must have been blocked by something.  Also, once the key fob didn’t work properly.  I called Car2Go to report it and they credited my account 30 minutes by the next business day.  Done and done! 

    I was very skeptical about Car2Go at first, because I was a die hard ZipCar user.  Now I find myself using Car2Go ALL THE TIME.  Sorry ZipCar…

  1. erin said at 12:21 pm on Tuesday October 2, 2012:

    On the downside that finding a Car2Go can be hit-or-miss: I was extremely skeptical of the service at first because of exactly this. I’ve since learned that these cars are actually pretty ideal for neighborhoods that are more residential farther from downtown. I have family that lives in Takoma, DC, a metro accessible residential neighborhood that borders Maryland. Many of the residents (of condos and houses alike) have taken to Car2Go. There’s almost always 2-4 cars parked in the neighborhood. It seems like while some people take them downtown or whereever they’re headed, just as many drive them home. They’re rarely parked on the same street, which is why I believe a number of neighbors are actually sharing the same few cars. It’s turned out to be a great way to get wheels if you live in a neighborhood where you don’t NEED a car, but can’t ever get a taxi.

  1. Anoymouse said at 12:47 pm on Tuesday October 2, 2012:

    I’ve had good experience with Car2Go, but a few comments/concerns:

    1) The Car2Go Card seems to disable my Smartrip card from being read by Metro turnstyles when both are in the same wallet

    2) the in-dash navigation system should have a little clock counting the minutes of your reservation (ideally, it would also tell you how much you’re being charged).

    3) the distribution of cars has not really affected me yet, but it could become an issue if you live in more far-flung residential areas of the city. As of writing this post, there are around 20 cars on and around GWU campus, and only 1 or 2 cars in all of Capitol Hill. In the future, the company may need to “re-balance” the cars as Capital Bikeshare often has to do.

  1. AC said at 2:21 pm on Tuesday October 2, 2012:

    I find absolutely ridicolous that these cars are parked everywhere around the city, taking up public parking space in blocks which are already parking scarce. This is abuse of public space, and even an 800k fee does not seem to balance the problem which is beard by residents and tax payers.

  1. Stacy said at 2:31 pm on Tuesday October 2, 2012:

    I live in Brookland and can never get a cab.  We love using Car2Go as a cab replacement.  And there always seem to be a few within a 3-4 block radius.  Yeah, they’re small and shoving my 80lb boxer in the back when we spent the night on CapHill was an experience but we all survived.  And, even if I could have gotten a cab to show up at my house, I’m pretty sure the dog would have been no-go.

  1. SL said at 2:37 pm on Tuesday October 2, 2012:

    Um, AC - seriously? The cars aren’t just occupying space, they’re being used all the time, and occupying spaces that would have just been occupied by other cars, that probably would not be getting used multiple times a day like the Car2Go cars. How many parking spaces are there in DC? Probably hundreds of thousands, and there are 300 Car2Go cars…I think there are much bigger fish to fry. I like to think, however, whenever I see a taxi driver acting/driving like an idiot with some giant polluting smelly vehicle that they could be replaced by a Car2Go car one day, and that makes me really happy wink

  1. Steph said at 2:52 pm on Tuesday October 2, 2012:

    I’m just curious as to the frequency of “stealing” someone else’s car2go.  does Zip or cars2go allow for reservations?  Say you take the car2go to the grocery store, you go into the store and when you come out, someone has taken it to a different location. Does this happen with car sharing? I realize that if you are truly going one way, it doesn’t matter, but what if your intention is a two-way trip, can you keep a reservation without the meeter running?

  1. Car2go is the WORST said at 2:57 pm on Tuesday October 2, 2012:

    I have used car2go 4 times, and only one of those times was without incident. If you have to call customer service for any reason after you’ve rented the car, they don’t credit THAT ride for the amount of time you have to spend on the phone. It is virtually impossible to get the cars unlocked, and sometimes, even after you’ve locked the car, their terrible internet connection means that your rental hasn’t actually ended. Additionally, even when the car tells you that your total trip time is a certain amount, it is never accurate because it doesn’t include the 5 minutes you had to spend trying to unlock the car or the several minutes you spent on the phone reporting any damage or the several minutes it took to lock the car up. So you’re charged almost 40 cents a minute to do all of these things, which doubles your rental time. Oh, and sometimes even if there is a car available, if the connection is bad, you can’t rent the car! And even if you spend 20 minutes on the phone with customer service, there is nothing they can do to unlock the car because their connection is terrible.

    Finally, if you ever get a parking ticket, don’t expect to find out about it for FOUR MONTHS! Then you’ll get a nice huge charge on your credit card.

    For all of the hassle of trying to use car2go, I would rather take a cab. Taking a cab is much less frustrating.

    I really wanted to love car2go, but their system is terrible. Nice idea, poor execution.

  1. CH said at 5:22 pm on Tuesday October 2, 2012:

    While I don’t entirely agree with AC - I don’t think it’s an abuse of public space - the parking situation does have consequences for DC residents. I live in a highly populated residential area of the city that’s far enough from a commercial strip that car2gos don’t turn over quickly. Yet car2go members clearly live in my area and are stockpiling cars for their use on my block.

    I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve had to circle my own neighborhood repeatedly trying to find a space in my permitted area (that I gave up congressional representation to get…) while these little blue and white things take up multiple viable parking spaces.

    So really, as a courtesy to residents in non-commerical areas, I have a plea to car2go drivers: Only park in tiny spaces. Leave the full-size parking spaces for resident car-owners. And for goodness sake, don’t ever park next to another car2go and manage to take up three combined parking spaces again. Seriously. I didn’t even think it was possible until I saw it. Luckily some other neighbor beat me to writing an angry note on the windshield.

  1. AC said at 6:22 pm on Tuesday October 2, 2012:

    My block has about 10 parking spaces and it has been the case in the past months that car2go takes up 2 or 3 of these spaces. This means residents need to circulate over and over, and further away to find replacement for those spaces. It is not cool.

  1. CD said at 6:27 pm on Tuesday October 2, 2012:

    I have no need for a car2gobut I do not some comments.  Despite the fact that the company has paid the city $800k to cover parking tickets, etc, I find it very inconsiderate of drivers to disobey the parking time restrictions.  Having car2gos parked on Connecticut or 16th Street during rush hour is a problem the city needs to deal with.

  1. David said at 7:09 pm on Tuesday October 2, 2012:

    I’ve used Car2go with only minor incidents over the last 2 months.  All of the incidents have to do with the terrible internet connections mentioned above.  From time-to-time you do have to wait a while for the car to figure out what’s going on.

    Regarding the parking spaces:  they’re not YOUR parking spaces, they’re the community’s.  There are a number of uses for these spaces:  handicapped parking, valet parking, taxi stands etc.  Would you feel the same way about someone who leased a car?

  1. Ms. D said at 10:02 am on Wednesday October 3, 2012:

    I have to echo the above angry posters…I ended up cancelling my membership after numerous bungles and “technical glitches.”  The straw that broke the camel’s back was, in an emergency on a weekend, I called customer service, and was told that the DC office would have to handle my issue.  After multiple attempts to transfer me, no one would pick up the phone in the DC office.  So, I was left stranded alongside the road with no effective customer support.  When I wrote them an email regarding the situation, it took me 3 tries to get a response, and then it was just *barely* an apology (do not waste your breath explaining to me your limited weekend staffing…if people who need to aren’t getting through, then you need more staffing (or more responsive staffing, period).

    I do not work for Zipcar, but I also love them.  In the *FEW* instances where I’ve had *MINOR* problems with their service, I have always gotten through to customer service quickly, and they have always worked to make it right promptly.  Given that it’s as hard as ever for me to book a Zipcar, I doubt they’re “bleeding” revenue.

  1. Ms. D said at 1:01 pm on Wednesday October 3, 2012:

    Although I must say the whining about the on-street parking is priceless.  Here’s a little news flash for you: the people using those cars are YOUR NEIGHBORS.  DC RESIDENTS.  And just as “entitled” as you are to use an on-street parking spot (within the bounds of the law, such as obeying emergency parking signs, general parking signs, rush hour zones, etc.).  Sure, they’re paying things like registration fees, parking permit fees, and gas taxes through a third party (who, BTW, also collects sales taxes and employs people with part of the fee they charge, on top of the expenses to keep the car going), but they still pay them.

    Would you rather have 2 or 3 car-sharing cars that multiple people can use on your block, or 10 or 15 residents of your block, who presumably do not currently own cars, go out and buy cars?  Which would really make it much harder for you to find a parking spot?

  1. cah said at 11:05 am on Monday March 18, 2013:

    Agree with the residents in population-dense neighborhoods with limited parking.  A Car2Go has been in front of my house since the weekend.  My block has families with cars and this vehicle is taking up a full-car space. Irritating and insulting to residents that the city can be “bought” by a corporate entity when residents have to pay for a residential parking permit. Shame on DC Government!

  1. KillMoto said at 6:59 pm on Sunday May 12, 2013:

    Listen to the people whine about parking!  What do you pay, like $15 for the year?  Curbside parking costs $4000 per space to build and hundreds of dollars a year to maintain. 

    Cars spend on average 95% of their time parked.  Your neighbor can use 1/2 a spot occasionally with a car2go, or they can use a full size spot overnight/every night if they just did what everybody else does and buy a car. 

    Petty, small people whining about losing their free parking.  Waaaaaaaaaaah!

  1. CC said at 11:17 am on Monday February 17, 2014:

    But how much does it cost?  The website currently says $0.41/min; $14.99/hour.  I want to use a car for 61 minutes.  How much is it going to cost?  What about 59 minutes.  This is absolutely rock bottom fundamental information, and you cannot get an answer from the web site, the agreement, the use guide, FAQ… and still waiting for an email response.  So far I am not impressed.

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