Car2go promo photo

I had to run a couple of errands on my way downtown recently, so I walked a couple of blocks from my house and grabbed a Car2go.  As I entered downtown and started hunting for a legal parking spot to ditch the car, it occurred to me how Car2go and paid parking are, as they say, two great tastes that go great together.

Paid parking, in an ideal Shoup-ian world, is priced so that some percentage of on-street spaces is always free. This, in turn, makes Car2go an attractive option since you know you won’t have to burn minutes circling for parking when you get to your destination.  Car2go would likely not be possible in a world of unrestricted “free” parking.

This makes Car2go a great example of what Steven Johnson calls “adjacent possible” innovation – an evolutionary change that reconfigures the existing system to create something new. The service relies on very little in the way of systemic change, save for the magical parking permit arrangement between the company and the city.  Car2go simply takes existing facts on the ground – smartphones, RFID chips, Smart cars, paid parking – and recombines them into something new and useful.

While Car2go has gotten off to a great start in Seattle, it’s clearly just version 1.0 of what could be a more seismic shift in transportation. Dave Roberts had a great piece in Grist recently about “widgets versus systems” and how driverless cars could be truly transformative on a city or regional level.  Changes at that scale, however will have to go beyond adjacent-possible-type innovation and towards a more fundamental reworking of our infrastructure. As Charles Mudede wrote recently in Slogonly government is capable of such systemic change.

58 Replies to “Car2Go and Paid Parking: A Love Affair”

      1. You do, albeit indirectly. C2G prepaid the city something like $1k/car/year for use of the meters, and that’s rolled into the rate structure, but it is free at the point of use for users.

    1. I was wondering the same thing. I guess the article makes a little more sense in light of the fact that you don’t have to feed the meter.

      What I’ve really been wondering is if you can orthogonally park those little golf-cart-cars in parallel parking zones.

      1. Unfortunately you can not, cause it would be even easier to find spots if you could.

      2. They will physically fit, but you are prohibited from parking them sideways like that.

  1. With driverless options enabled, after some period of confidence building, the cars could simply re-position themselves based on trends and current car locations.
    George Jetson would be jealous – and obsolete.

  2. C2G’s genius is its enabling spontaneous trips. It’s successful despite, not because of, its fleet of Smart Cars. If Zipcar blew up their business model and started offering minute pricing, one-way/free floating rentals, they’d eat C2G’s lunch with their vastly superior fleet.

    1. I actually disagree about the cars. Yeah the Smart Cars suck drive wise but when you’re paying by the minute I want as small of a car as I can get so parking close to my destination is a breeze.

      1. Exactly. The car is part of the deal. I can park it anywhere, when other have nothing open. Also it is the perfect city car, small little go kart that gets you around easily and quickly.

      2. +1 Adam. More than a few times, I’ve been able to parallel park the Smart in a space that wouldn’t have accommodated a larger vehicle. The ease of parking is, IMHO, part of the spontaneity factor. Both starting and ending a trip are a breeze.

      3. It’s true, parking has not been a problem even once in the ~20 C2G trips I’ve taken. Even so, many new subcompacts get better gas mileage, are far more driveable than the Smarts, and would still be easily parked in the vast majority of cases. I’m thinking cars like the Mazda 2 and the VW Golf, etc, which are about 150″ long compared to the Smart’s 106″. Or even the ScionIQ, which is 120″ long.

      4. What types of resources do these companies expend to redistribute cars or do you always put it back where you picked it up?

      5. [John] They monitor cars that have been in one spot for more than a day, and occasionally move them if they sit around too long. Short of that, they let them move around as they like. You do not have to return them to where you found them (that’s one of the largest benefits of the service).

    2. But as long as Daimler owns C2G, you’re unlikely to see another car. I think half the reason that Daimler started C2G just to get rid off all the Smart’s they couldn’t sell.

    3. Don’t forget that Zipcar makes it such so you can seat more than two people. Folks with kiddos would appreciate that, or at least I would! Then again, I’m not super sure that I’d want to pay-by-the-minute to install a cars eat for an infant… Zipcar wins on driving experience each and every time.

      Car2Go has convinced me that Smart Cars are atrocious cars. I swear my Honda Rebel has a smoother suspension. The transmission is awful. I cannot believe that someone would actually buy one of those vehicles for the price point they sell for.

  3. 1. With free parking or flat-rate parking high-demand spaces are usually occupied.

    2. In an ideal Shoupian paid-parking system parking rates are set based on demand to try to create a uniform level of vacancy.

    3. When you use Car2Go you pay for parking by minute of car use, without regard to where you park.

    ERGO (trollface) Shoupian paid-parking is a great deal for Car2Go users but Car2Go is not a great deal for Shoupian paid-parking, and in fact if Car2Go became the dominant mode of driving it would render Shoupian parking irrelevant.

    On the other hand, Shoupian parking is as much about turnover as vacancy, nudging long-term users out of high-demand areas. If Car2Go vehicles almost always turn over quickly in high-demand spaces there’s little need for a disincentive to park in high-demand spaces. I bet that’s true, so it’s probably OK.

  4. Sounds like someone listened to the Freakonomics podcast this week.

    It’s worth pointing out that Seattle is one of the few cities that have implemented a Shoupian parking model (though in very rough form). I wonder if that’s contributed to Car2Go’s success here. I never have trouble finding parking anymore.

    1. Sadly we don’t have a Shoupian model everywhere. There are a few places in the city (most prominently inner Capitol Hill away from the major arterials, and the northeast U-District) where it is absolutely impossible to find parking at high-demand times, because the residents have steadfastly resisted metering.

      1. So true. There are a few restaurants on Cap Hill that I absolutely love but never go to because I’m never nearby on foot. The first dozen times I looked for parking, but now I just drive by longingly.

      2. Last time I went to that area late at night, I parked downtown and took the 43 up the hill rather than trying to park up there.

      3. Matt – take David’s advice and take a bus. Most all restaurants on Capitol Hill are within walking distance of a bus that comes from downtown. It’s not that difficult.

      4. There’s nothing near Denny & Olive (In the Bowl). And yes, one of the few times I actually went there I combined my meal with a Starbucks to use their parking. I’d take the bus there sometime, but it’s the #8…

        Ooh, 50% off today for their 5th anniversary.

      5. Where car2go really fails is in returning to the residential areas on Capitol Hill’s crest, where housing is dense but most residents seem to own a car (even if they don’t drive it daily). This is particularly true in the late evening, when the buses are willfully bunched and the cost of a car2go may be worth it to stay dry and stay sane.

        Every attempt to reach my girlfriend’s place on this part of the Hill by car2go has required doubling my billed minutes looking for parking. 15th Ave NE is no help, as this section has a daytime 1-hour limit (leaving the car there would violate the floating-permit rules).

        My own Old Ballard home offers the exact opposite experience: 2-hour-in-the-daytime spaces are plentiful after 11:30 or midnight, so car2go parking gets incredibly easy just as the bus schedules get incredibly bad. And the cars you leave are invariably gone by morning.

        If any place in Seattle calls for a handful of distributed car2go-exclusive spaces — perhaps car2go-exclusive only at night — the top of Capitol Hill is it.

  5. We have gone from a world in which the machines are omnipotent, to a world in which they are omniscient. Of course that is a gross exaggeration, but the atomic era and space age went hand in hand. They were both defined by machines that could do incredibly powerful things. Big ships, big jets, big rockets and fast cars were all considered normal, and we could expect a lot more of them. Seattle named its basketball team after a supersonic jet because we just assumed that we would soon be building lots of them. Alas, it wasn’t to be. Our ability to make powerful machines that can easily (and more importantly cheaply) move us around hit a wall. Traveling from one place to another isn’t much faster than it was fifty years ago. Building a big system to improve things (like a subway) isn’t any cheaper, either.

    Meanwhile, the complex arrangement of computers that surround us are capable of knowing things that are amazing. From a transportation standpoint, we have just barely considered the ramifications.

    Instant carpooling is one. I think such a system exists, but it hasn’t gained momentum yet. It is fairly simple, really. If you know you are going to drive somewhere, you can ask if anyone is going the same way. The passenger can take a bus and meet you. The system can optimize it so that both people can travel as fast as possible. Such problems are extremely complex, but machines (and the people who operate them) are capable of solving those sorts of problems.

    Likewise, public transportation could be integrated into the same system. Why must the driver own the car? A cab could provide the same thing (for a bit more money). The cabs wouldn’t have to be small, either. Vans or buses could easily make sense for such an arrangement. It wouldn’t shock me if twenty years from now folks rode a bus with no set destination. It simply is part of a series of buses that respond to demand and traffic to get people where they want to go quickly and cheaply.

    1. Instant carpooling is one. I think such a system exists,

      Indeed, WWU has a bulletin board for it’s students that does exactly this. Works like a charm since there are so many students making trips south for various reasons all the time. Which raises the question, how well would C2G do in mid-sized college towns like B’ham or Corvallis?

      1. Is that a real (physical) bulletin board? If so, I’ve used it and it works well. Even if it is a software (website) bulletin board, it really isn’t what I’m talking about.

        This is more of what I had in mind:
        The article mentions a bunch of companies, but I’m not sure how far they’ve gotten. It is a very tough problem, so it isn’t easy. Someone like Google could pump a lot of money into it, but for most companies, it is very hard to get right. There are just so many variables. The existing public transportation system, how far a rider is willing to walk, how fast the rider can walk, traffic, potential routes, how far the driver is willing to go out of his/her way, etc. Then there are security and cost concerns. Actually, compared to the transportation based issues, those are pretty minor. But they are still concerns.

        The old bulletin board works well for big trips like that which are planned well in advance. No one would imagine using to match riders with drivers to get across town. With a well designed software system, however, it could work quite easily. At a minimum, I could see more people using it to pick up riders on the way across 520 or I-90 (to speed up their commute).

      2. I’ve thought about instant ridersharing in my head several times and the biggest problem I see is giving drivers an incentive to participate. Namely, there is some initial overhead to set up the account and some additional overhead per trip to check if there are any passengers available.

        For long trips (e.g. Seattle->North Bend), finding a price that is both low enough that passengers would be willing to pay it and high enough so that drivers would be willing to participate is not a problem.

        For example, let’s consider Green Lake to Ballard as the classic example of a short trip that public transit is currently abysmal as serving. Not many drivers are going to be willing to stop and pick up a stranger for as little as $0.50 (about $0.25 per mile). $5 would be sufficient to get drivers interested, except for the same $5, you may as well just take Car2Go, rather than use the ridesharing system.

        Another problem is getting the critical mass of drivers signed up in the first place. In an ideal world where every driver was signed up to pick up passengers whenever they aren’t in a hurry and have empty space in the car, finding rides would be quick and easy. However, in a world where only 0.1% of drivers are plugged into the system, you might have to wait a long time to find a ride, long enough to make the wait not worth it where for the same price, you can take Car2Go or, for a few dollars more, a cab.

        Also, if driver income from dynamic ridesharing is taxable, the price would have to be higher still to get drivers interested.

        I’m sure at some point, these issues can be worked out. With a critical mass of drivers participating, I think dynamic carpooling can potentially work really well for serving sprawl-filled suburbia. In a dream world where 50% of drivers are offering up rides for a few dollars, a system like this could even be used to get around places like Sammamish very efficiently. However, in a real world where only 3 drivers in the whole city of Sammamish are participating, the system just won’t work.

      3. I agree asdf: It only makes sense if lots of people are using it. I think it makes sense for this area given:

        1) Lots of suburban office locations
        2) Bad traffic
        3) Car pool lanes

        I’m thinking Ballard to Redmond. Or West Seattle to Kirkland. Once the car tunnel is built, then West Seattle to Ballard would make sense. It even makes sense for some non-suburban, but still in the city locations, like Fremont.

        As you suggest, though, it probably doesn’t make sense for little trips. But I’m curious if what you suggests makes sense, either. For example*, let’s say I’m trying to get from Lynnwood to Fremont for work. Let’s assume that their is an express bus to the UW and to downtown. Downtown means I’ve overshot my destination, so UW isn’t bad. But what next? Take a bus? OK, but its slow (it runs every half hour). Rent a car? Maybe, but now the car system has efficiency problems of its own. There has to be a lot at the UW and Fremont. Maybe there is, but I would think that simply paying a driver might be just as cheap (say, $3.00 for a one way trip). A cab is the obvious answer, but cabs in this city are really expensive (which is why such a system might make a lot of sense).

        * I haven’t actually researched this example so I don’t know if anything I said is true or not. I also left out the solution I would probably try, which is to ride a bike along the Burke Gilman, buy you get the idea.

        You are right, though, in that it needs momentum and possibly even a bit of a subsidy from the city. Maybe paying for transit entitles you to a cheaper ride (similar to a transfer, but not a fully paid for transfer). Setting up stations for easy pickup makes a lot of sense, along with buses that go there. The edge of 520 is an obvious one. But that goes back 3) above. Even though there are car pool lanes across the bridge (and just before it) there aren’t any leading up to it. You would still get caught in traffic well before you can pick someone up.

  6. I love the car2Go concept, and the ability to go right up to a car and basically say “I want to drive you now” and you’re in.

    The real problem is when you need to park the thing when you’re done. Yes, you can park in any paid parking zone that has a maximum time of at least 2 hours. The problem comes when the only spot you can find is a part-time bus lane. If that car is still there when that time comes around, whoever last drove it (i.e. parked it there last) is on the hook for the ticket and the towing (Really, Seattle? $125 to tow a tiny car from 4th and Washington to where… 5th and Columbia? Come the frick on). And their car’s network signal is really unreliable. You finally find a spot, but you can’t end your trip there, because of their shoddy network signal, so you have to drive around another 15 minutes (tick tock, tick tock, says your wallet) and the best you can find is a spot behind a big white van that, it turns out, is obscuring a temporary bus lane sign. (And even that didn’t have signal, and I had to use the car phone to call their customer service to end the trip, which still took over 10 minutes.)

    In other cities where Car2Go exists, they do like ZipCar and provide designated parking spots. In Seattle, they opted to go with this “Floating Permit” method where you can park in any municipal parking area. This sounds great, until you realize there is no place to park, and you really wish there *was* a dedicated spot.

    I really like the idea, and I am considering re-activating my account, but they have some serious implementation and reliability issues that impact users and that they are not willing to take responsibility for the consequences, but instead pass them off to the users. It’s not my fault their signal didn’t work, and it’s not my fault that they left an unlocked car that they were aware of sit there for three hours. But I’m on the hook for parking tickets and towing fee. :(

    1. But the point of this post is that Car2Go works perfectly with a Shoup model parking system: all street parking should be priced such that there is an empty space or two per block. Seattle has this goal in many areas, and I’ve observed it working pretty well. I have a feeling you weren’t parking in one of those areas.

      Oh, and you’re not supposed to park a Car2Go in a part-time bus lane.

      1. One question I’m wondering about with regards to Car2Go parking in part-time bus lanes. Let’s suppose you’re taking Car2Go downtown on a Thursday night and park in a space that is signed “no parking 7-9 AM Monday-Friday”. Obviously, the car cannot be left there the next morning. But if you are willing to check on the car on your way back and drive it out of that space if it’s still there (if somebody else took the car first, then it’s the other users problem where it is parked, so you don’t care), I don’t see how this poses any risk of the car still being there during the time when parking is illegal, unless you forget to check back on the car, which is your own fault.

        I guess whether this practice is ok depends on how parking is enforced. If enforcement only happens during the 7-9 M-F period, it’s ok, as the car is guaranteed to be gone from that space by that time, whether somebody else moves it or not. However, if someone can come by and issue the Car2Go vehicle a ticket on a Thursday night even though general parking is still legal Thursday night in that space, then it is not ok.

      2. I don’t get it. Why would SPD be able to ticket you Thursday night for a violation that happens Friday morning?

      3. The Car2Go website says if an area that prohibits parking during rush hour, you can’t park there any time. In interpret this to mean that as long as you are willing to guarantee the car gets moved before the next rush hour, you’re ok.

        FWIW, I tried this once on a Saturday morning. By Saturday afternoon, the car was gone, so I never had to move it. In practice, I think the liklihood that any car parked downtown on a Saturday morning will still remain there the following Monday is extremely remote.

      4. I’d be amazed if SPD was ticketing car2go vehicles parked legally (at the time) that were only violating the car2go rules. After all, it could be parked in the not-yet-a-bus-lane on a stopover, which would be entirely legit.

        I, like you, assume that as long as the car isn’t still there when it becomes illegal to park then you’re good to go. Similarly for parking in a free private lot (e.g. at Northgate Mall).

      5. I realize that you are not supposed to park the C2G in a part-time bus lane, but the sign wasn’t visible in the spot I parked. I didn’t think I would need to look up and down the block from my space to look for it, because I was on the phone with C2G support over their signal issues preventing me from ending the trip properly.

        The car got the ticket after 3 when then lane switched to bus only, then towed.

        If someone else had used the car in the time between 12:30ish when I left it, and 3:00, it wouldn’t have been a problem. Neither would it have been a problem if the C2G staff had checked up on the car, which I wasn’t able to even lock the doors on (CS told me they would be notified about the car needing attention).

        In retrospect, had I known the space was no good, I theoretically could have just moved it a couple hours later if it hadn’t moved already. I’d done this before. I just didn’t know.

        Then again, my first space appeared to be good, but I moved it because the car wasn’t able to connect to to C2G’s servers to end the trip properly, and asked me to find another space. Which added another 10-15 minutes until I finally settled on the one I ended up in (which was apparently bad). So, if their cars’ connectivity was reliable, this also wouldn’t have happened.

        I think there are kinks that need to be worked out and until they can work their kinks out, they shouldn’t hold the users liable for unreasonable issues that follow from them.

      6. It also occurs to me that C2G’s signal issues may have prevented the car from being available in the system, preventing anyone else from using it in that time. (I’ve had the problem trying to get into a car — it wouldn’t let me in because of signal issues.) The likelihood that the car would have sat there, unused, smack in the middle of lower downtown, from 12:30 to 3:00 is pretty damn slim. But because of their service troubles, the car was stuck there until the local C2G staff took care of it — which they clearly didn’t.

      7. The rules specify that you can’t park in a space that becomes illegal in the next 24 hours. So rush-hour lane on a Saturday = okay. Rush-hour lane on a Sunday evening = not okay.

  7. One situation where Car2Go absolutely does not work today is downtown parking on a Sunday, when the meters are not enforced and street parking is a giant free-for-all.

    Because ending a trip downtown on a Sunday is so difficult, beginning a trip downtown is also difficult, as there are very few cars available.

    However, even if Car2Go vehicles are not to be found directly in downtown, the service can still be helpful. Instead of needing to wait for the hourly bus you just missed that goes right to your house, you can instead hop on whichever bus happens to come first that is headed in the same general direction as your home, then get off at whatever stop is near a Car2Go vehicle, and drive it the rest of the way.

  8. OT, but I just noticed that the promo car2go photo above includes the SLU car that has my alma mater emblazoned on it. Bonus points for that!

  9. My office faces a street that has parking available for most of the day except for rush hour. And Car2Go customers are getting tickets during non-rush hour times.

    I was very excited about Car2Go when it first launched. I’m now balancing between it and zipcar, with zipcar winning these days for the following reasons:

    1. Availability in Capitol Hill. Can’t find them with any reliability. Definitely more misses than hits.
    2. No parking south of McClellan. (Yes, I know they are working on it.)
    3. Hills. I was on a hill and could not get the car to move. It “stalled” for what seemed an eternity before finally moving. Luckily, there were no cars behind me.

    But hey, the eco-friendly app is fun!

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