Ballard Car2Go

I talked on the phone to Car2Go CEO Nick Cole a couple of weeks ago, to follow up on our last interview, and relay some of your questions; apologies for the delay in getting this published. I did ask if car2go could share heat maps, or some other graphic of Seattle’s demand, but they declined. They did, however, point out a video from South By Southwest showing car2go usage in Austin one weekend, which while not official, is apparently accurate.

Bruce: Everyone seems to agree the car2go refueling process is terrible for users. Do you plan to make any changes to it?

Nick: Refueling is a necessary evil, of course. Unlike competitors, car2go only requests (not requires) that drivers refill the car below a certain fuel level, so most users will be able to avoid it if they wish. Essentially, we crowdsource refueling: for example, there are apps [e.g. free2go] which show users cars that are eligible for the refueling bonus; this is much cheaper for us than paying someone to go out and refill cars. The current bonus seems to provide an adequate incentive to keep the cars fueled, so there are no plans to change it.

One common request is for the option to buy down the insurance deductible; $1,000 is more liability than many people would like to carry. For example, ZipCar allows users to do this on a monthly or per-trip basis. Are you guys planning to offer this?

Yes, this is something we want to offer. We are talking to our insurance company now, and we hope to offer something by the end of the year.

Another is for the ability to drive in other countries, e.g. I’d like to be able to drive in Vancouver or London with my Seattle membership. Is this something you could offer?

Again, this is another thing we want to offer, and we’re working with our legal team to make it happen. car2go is a global company, and we want car2go to be globally seamless. Keep in mind, though, It’s quite a lot of work: we have to solve more than just the US-Canada problem, we also have to solve Germany-UK, Canada-France, Austria-US, etc.

More after the jump.

ZipCar automates toll collection on SR-520 (and other roads) using WSDOT’s Good2Go system, whereas car2go processes them manually, and tacks on a $5 processing fee. This means an extra $10 for a round-trip to (say) Kirkland on car2go versus ZipCar, which singlehandedly makes car2go uncompetitive. More widespread tolling, e.g. on SR-99, is in our future. Do you guys have any plans to adopt Good2Go tolling?

We definitely want to make using car2go a more seamless experience, but we have no plans in the short term to adopt Good2Go.

For a tech-savvy company, your website is surprisingly clunky; e.g. it frequently forgets which city I live in. Are you guys fixing this?

We’re well aware there are ways it could be improved, and we’re always looking for ways to do so.

A couple of weeks ago, car2go launched a partnership with a private parking lot operator at Austin-Bergstrom International airport, providing off-street parking and an airport shuttle service for a $5 surcharge. How is that working out, and do you see it having applicability to other cities?

It’s been very well used, almost from the minute it launched, and we’re certainly prepared to look at similar things in other cities. One thing to keep in mind is that Austin’s airport, unlike many others, is very close to the city, so it was only a very small extension of the home area to put cars at that lot. Proximity would be a factor if we were to consider this somewhere else.

Virtually every north-south street in downtown Seattle has a peak-period parking restriction, so finding acceptable parking for a car2go downtown can be almost impossible. Are you aware of this issue, and if so, what might you do about it? 

We’re not aware that this is a problem, but if it is, there are a couple of possible solutions. One, which we can implement quite easily, is renting spaces in private lots downtown. Another is doing as we’ve done in Vancouver’s downtown area: arranging for reserved some on-street spaces just for car2go, but prohibiting car2go parking on other streets.

Any general comments on how your launch in Seattle has gone? Are you having any particular problems?

Seattle’s been a great city for us; we’ve had no problems, in fact we consider this to have been a model launch. We’ve been pleasantly surprised to be able to expand after only four months, and the support of the Seattle City Council has been refreshing: some cities are reluctant to expand even when our data shows the existing fleet is well-used. Perhaps the most impressive thing: utilization of cars has remained very high even after the recent influx of new cars.

Thanks to the car2go folks for sitting down with me again.

25 Replies to “More Answers from Car2Go”

  1. “we’ve had no problems…”

    Seriously? They have a pretty consistent problem with people parking their cars in locations that they shouldn’t. I’ve heard a lot of complaints about pet hair in their cars and have witnessed it myself in several cars. Their cars are far dirtier, on average, than ZipCars. Their IT systems, from web site to the car’s touch screen, are… to use your wording “clunky” at best and frustrating at worst. I love their service enough to put up with the hassles, but “no problems”? Please.

    I’m unsure if ZipCar is planning a Car2Go-like service, but if my experience so far is any guide, Car2Go would have serious problems if they did.

    1. I use Car2Go quite a bit to fill in holes in Metro’s network, but if Zipcar started a point-to-point service I’d flip to them in a heartbeat. Better cars, far better support experience.

    2. I “saved” one just as it was about to be towed on Stewart one afternoon. I reported that and was rewarded.

  2. Unfortunately, he failed to substantively address the real issues with refueling car2go cars. The problem is not that people have to refuel the cars, it’s that the refueling process itself is so error-prone. As I mentioned in my comment to the previous car2go post, I actually welcome the opportunity to refuel and earn free minutes. But the last time I tried it, the fuel card was denied no matter what I did (including calling the card’s customer service number), and I eventually just gave up. Others have had similar experiences.

  3. I’m disappointed you didn’t ask about the problem of the mass of cars moving downtown every morning and gone from downtown in the evening (making it nearly impossible to use the service during the day unless you start in downtown and nearly impossible to use the service at night if you start downtown). It is really frustrating to see the service used as a way to get out of paying for parking downtown or an alternative to transit.

    1. Agreed.. I’m curious if the City or Car2Go will implement pricing to adjust this behavior. It is certainly in the city’s interest to get additional parking revenue, and it could be in Car2Go’s interest as well. That being said Car2Go doesn’t care as long as their utilization is where they want it.

      1. I get why this is frustrating for some users… but I don’t understand why you think it’s a flaw in the system. You’re describing the dominant movement of people in the City during the day, so why should it be a surprise that the cars would quickly reflect this? There’s no way to dead-head Car2Go like we do with buses.

      2. “There’s no way to dead-head Car2Go like we do with buses.”

        Sure there is – It’s called discount pricing. The app could ask for an intended destination and give you a list of cars with discounted rates. It’s actually quite easy once you know where a particular trip is heading. The only trick is the math to know where cars should be and how close they want them spaced.

      3. @Mickymse It’s a flaw, when all weekend long in Ballard, for example, there are no cars within the denser Ballard Core (bounded by 24th, 65th and 15th). But there are a ton of cars littered all over Crown Hill and East Ballard in the residential areas.

      4. @Mickymse, it is a problem if the service is simply being used as a way for a handful of SOV commuters to avoid paying for parking downtown. That doesn’t help anybody but the one commuter. The city loses out on potential revenue from the parking space since the car2go cars can park their all day, the lot operators lose out on revenue since that SOV commuter is no longer parking his/her own car, “good” car2go users lose out because the cars are all clustered downtown where very few people can use them, everyone else loses out because the roads remain congested.

      5. Taking Car2Go downtown should be cheaper than parking a personal car downtown because the Car2Go vehicle is likely to get picked up by somebody else during the day, so it would only be taking up the space for a couple of hours.

        Yes, there is a net flux of cars going into the city center in the morning and out of the city center in the evening, but that doesn’t mean every car that goes into the city center is just sitting there all day. Cars still constantly go in and out.

        And, even if some people are simply using it as a way to avoid paying for parking, I say, fine. I would much rather have that than not have the service at all.

    2. Well, the fleet is going to expand, you’re going to have to do something, as the number of street spaces in downtown Seattle is certainly not going to get any larger.

      I’m not exactly how to do this with prices without making things overly complicated, but I like the idea of focusing on encourage reverse-peak trips, rather than discourage peak trips. The idea would work something like this. You establish the boundaries of a downtown Car2Go zone. I’m envisioning this bounded by Safeco Field on the south, Puget Sound on the west, Denny Way on the north, and I-5 on the east. The way this system would work, any trip that moves a car out of the downtown zone during morning commute hours (e.g. 7-9, Monday-Friday) would receive a small driving credit towards the next trip, say 5 minutes. Then, any trip that moves a car into the downtown zone during afternoon commute hours (e.g. 4-7 PM) would receive a similar credit.

    3. I have a neighbor who brings one home every evening and it seems that on most days it sits on the street all night waiting for him to drive back downtown in the morning.

      I noticed that at an out of the way parking lot near Georgetown almost every time I drive by in the day there is a car parked in the lot. It’s so out of the way One would have to take a cab to access it.It must be like having your own car but only paying when you actually drive it.

    1. Based on that video, it seems like a few inner neighborhoods have really high turnover rates while the vast majority of the city (by land area) is pretty stagnant. I wonder how this plays into the company’s decision about the size of its home area, and what sort of turnover rates they need to be profitable.

  4. Did they respond to every question you put forth to them (even if they didn’t end up answering the question in their response)? It seemed like there was a much larger variety of questions and valid criticisms in the original thread.

  5. Sorry, but their responses are kind of lame.

    re: Their clunky website.

    They’re “well aware there are ways it could be improved” and they’re “always looking for ways to do so”. What exactly does that non-response mean?! A number of people are having problems with their site. It could be improved by devoting resources to fixing the current issues.

    They probably contracted out the site building to a place and now it would be too much of a hassle to pay them again to fix the issues.

    I haven’t thought out the whole Good2Go thing, but is there a good reason why they wouldn’t be interested in implementing it short term?

    1. “the whole Good2Go thing, … is there a good reason why they wouldn’t be interested in implementing it short term?”

      Perhaps because their entire service area is in Seattle, so anyone using the 520 bridge (or SR-167 HOT lanes or Narrows bridge) is going out of area. When SR-99 is tolled, maybe they’ll change their mind.

  6. What do they mean when they say “car2go only requests (not requires) that drivers refill the car below a certain fuel level”? What if the car is on fumes? Have they found a way to make their cars run on love, or are they simply sayin that if there’s no fuel in the car, it’s okay (as far as they are concerned) if you don’t make your journey.

    I suppose the real question is whether this is a problem in practice. Any opinions?

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