Car2Go Warm Up

After a successful 2-year pilot period, the Seattle City Council’s Transportation Subcommittee voted today to significantly expand car sharing services like Car2Go within the city limits, authorizing more permits and allowing up to 4 companies to provide services.

Car2Go has been very popular in Seattle. The service is reportedly approaching 60,000 members within the city, meaning nearly 10% of the Seattle population is a Car2Go member. According to SDOT, the cars are used for 6 trips per day, so they spend relatively little time parked in the same spot on the street, a fear when the service launched. Cars spend about 70 minutes/day in paid zones and 2.5 hours in restricted zones such as RPZs. There is no data on how much time the cars spend in unrestricted residential zones.

As the city gets more information about where car share vehicles spend their idle time, it has adjusted the fees it charges accordingly. With this new legislation, car share companies will pay the city $1,730 per car per year, up from $1,330. The change is largely due to an increase in the cost of parking in Residential Parking Zones (RPZs). The Committee argued that more money was needed to pay for the full costs of the RPZ program. Josh Feit did the math in his writeup if you’re interested. Car2Go’s Walter Rozenkranz spoke during the public comment period to say that the increase in fees “may result in increase in fees to our members.”

Under the new law, which will be voted on by the full council, up to 4 companies may apply for permits. Each company can get 500 permits, or 750 if they choose to expand their services to the entire city Limits (currently Car2Go’s service area excludes the far North and South ends of the city). That means that there could be as many as 3,000 car share vehicles available to city residents by year end. In practice, however, the number is likely to be much smaller. BMW, which operates Drive Now in several cities, is keen to expand to Seattle. Zipcar may also be investigating such a service, although it’s unlikely to launch this year, Councilmember O’Brien noted.

As a Car2Go member myself, I’d be excited to see more cars and more competition. I’ll be curious to see what the overlap in membership is. Will car share customers own 3-4 company cards, and hop to whatever service has one available? Or will different services appeal to different consumers? Will we see airline-like loyalty programs emerge? It will be interesting to watch.

If there’s one area I’d direct SDOT and Car2Go to work on, it’s making it more clear on the street where exactly car shares are permitted to park. The legislation spells it out pretty well, but I rarely have a copy of the Seattle Municipal Code with me when I’m circling Capitol Hill looking for a spot to ditch the car.

40 Replies to “Bill to Expand Car Sharing Advances in Council”

  1. I think that Car2Go does a really good job of informing people where to park, though people don’t follow it all of the time:

    Don’t park:

    – in any spot that you couldn’t ordinarily park (handicapped, loading, valet, no parking at all)
    – in any spot where parking is allowed for less than two hours at a time
    – in any spot which has a time-of-day restriction (rush hour lanes, city parks, in Ballard next to a “no parking between 2A and 5A” sign)
    – off-street unless Car2Go specifically says you can park there

    I eagerly await the addition of more services. Car2Go is pretty awesome but only having two seats is sometimes limiting when lakecityrider Jr. is out with my better half and myself. Pity that ZipCar isn’t “anticipated” to launch this year; they’re the service that I’d most like to have.

    1. I’m not sure how big a difference Zipcar would make. They had a huge presence in Portland for a few years, but I never see their cars anywhere now that Car2Go has arrived here in a big way. It’s almost as if they have a mutual agreement to not compete too heavily.

    2. “– in any spot where parking is allowed for less than two hours at a time”

      Except if they’re paying the city for RDZ, then you should be able to park in those zones.

      1. Is this an opinion? Because my understanding of the current rules are that you may never park in a sub-2-hour spot, regardless of why that spot is restricted or how much money car2go has paid the City this year.

    3. Was that Zipcar’s regular service or a one-way service like Car2Go? Zipcar’s regular service has doubtless lost market share to Car2Go’s more flexible service, but it still has a niche for those who want a wider variety of cars for different size loads, more likelyhood of your local ones being available and in a known spot, and 100% guarantee of it being available for your return trip.

      I was surprised that the ones in my area are in office building garages and new apartment building garages, right in the front row. It must be a selling point for new apartment buildings, “We have three Zipcars.”

      1. Probably their regular service, but I don’t know for certain. It has been maybe 3 years since I have seen a Zipcar anywhere, on the street or in traffic or in parking. I used to see them around maybe 10-20 times a week.

      2. Zipcars live in a designated off-street parking space and you return them back there, the opposite of C2G. I used to be a zipcar member and that was one of the major obstacles – wherever you go you’re thinking, “I’m paying $10/hr for my zipcar to sit somewhere”. The other issue was you paid for your reserved time, not actual, so I’d either pay for time I didn’t use or white-knuckle it back to the parking space and get it back with seconds to spare, very stressful.

      3. Zipcar does have a deal for 30$, where if you rent after 6pm and return before 8:30am (Monday through Thursday)– which may be better if you have late night errands to run, etc. They market it as a “late night work at work and then you have to be in the office early” thing.

        It would be cool though, if Car2go had subcompacts (where you could more than 2 people).

      4. It would be cool though, if Car2go had subcompacts (where you could more than 2 people).

        I expect that would drive up the price considerably, since the city would, rightly, negotiate a larger price for the parking. You’d have to have a whole lot of them out there for it to be useful, as they’d need to be nearly as available as the standard models, so it’s not exactly something you could experiment with on a limited basis.

      5. Zipcars live in a designated off-street parking space

        Did that change some years ago? I used to see them in designated on-street car sharing parking spaces quite a lot.

      6. I use ZipCar several times a year. I get a discounted yearly membership through my employer at $25/year. I find the flexible vehicle types available a big plus over Car2Go. If I need a van I can get a van, same with a truck or sedan.

        They have dedicated parking spots you return them to. I usually use the ones at Northgate which are right next to the Park and Ride/Transit Center. But, there are other spots all over town.

      7. Zipcar’s one-way trip service is beta-ing only in Boston, as far as I know. It’s still oddly expensive, and limited by the need to “dock” in a pre-arranged Zipcar-exclusive space at your destination. It seems to still require an absurd amount of advanced logistical planning incongruous with entry into the “spontaneous trip” market.

        If Zipcar can’t find a better way to bridge the gap between spontaneous-style carsharing services and traditional car rentals (which are no longer much more expensive than they are), then I can’t see them lasting much longer.

      8. I think the way that Zipcar bridges that gap with its geographical and temporal availability. It probably won’t be as big anymore, but I think it’ll remain useful.

        If you’re 22, don’t have parking, and mom’s coming into town, it’s really nice to be able to have a car for the weekend with fairly short notice. You don’t have to show up to the rental desk during business hours, pay the underage fee (otherwise, traditional rentals would be a lot cheaper), and figure out where you can rent parking for a weekend — you can book the car on your phone, claim it any time, and have a place near home to park it.

        It’s also feasible to have zipcars amidst less dense areas (e.g. DT Bellevue) — if car2go is the hailable yellow cab, zipcar is Eastside for hire.

  2. Off topic. I assume at least some readers here are aware of the bus riding dog on rapid D? I saw it on ABC last night.

  3. Pleasantly surprised to see an actual pro free market decision from the Council. Care2Go is almost as much of a competitor to taxis as Uber and Lyft are, but we didn’t see any of the hyperventilating on this issue.

    More importantly, the Council didn’t impose any arbitrary politically-motivated regulations on car sharing companies. You can imagine the possibilities: requiring Car2Go cars to be maintained by unionized mechanics, “optional” contributions to fund C2G memberships for low-income residents, parking rules that vary by neighborhood, etc.

    Now maybe governments can start cutting down that insane rental-car tax rate (7.7% plus general sales tax). Sound Transit gets 0.8%, King County gets 1%, and the state gets 5.9% plus the regular sales tax.

    1. There’s a difference in liability between you renting a car and driving yourself and your guests, vs you leasing a space in your own car to a client stranger. In the first case, the person paying has the license and insurance and responsibility. In the second case, the person being paid does, and the state has to represent the client’s interests (re safety from accidents and abuse and improper charges).

    2. Care2Go is almost as much of a competitor to taxis as Uber and Lyft are, but we didn’t see any of the hyperventilating on this issue.

      The freak-outs about Uber can be way over the top, but there’s an important distinction–Car2go negotiated with the city first for the right to operate, rather than crashing in to the market with dubious legal authority to do so.

    3. The typo of “care2go” is uncanny, because the fact that car2go really does seem to care and be respectful is precisely why it doesn’t elicit the same backlash as uber.

      While uber makes the tone-deaf suggestion that teachers should supplement their income by driving, car2go fesses up to system billing issues and system outages without prompting. Both companies do cute community promos, but only one company has a notoriously shady CEO.

      Time will tell, of course, but I welcome the addition of blue-and-white carlets and similar services from other companies.

      1. Yup. I’ve used car2go enough to have encountered every possible software deficiency and a couple of total hardware meltdowns, but I’ve never experienced anything short of stellar human customer service, and I’ve been impressed with their learning curve. The system is exponentially more reliable today than it was two years ago, and everyone who works there seems proud of the significant role they’ve played in liberating mid-density, lousy-transit Seattle from private-car dependency.

      2. Car2Go definitely competes with Uber and Lyft, and I have definitely found myself taking some Uber/Lyft trips in recent months that would have been Car2Go trips a couple of years ago.

        If you’re traveling alone, the biggest advantage of Car2Go over Lyft and Uber ultimately comes down to price. At an equal price, having somebody else drive you and not needing to worry about parking is usually the superior service. For most trips, Car2Go is about 20-30% cheaper than Lyft/Uber (the difference used to be more, before Lyft/Uber have been cutting prices). However, if the trip involves a lot of stop-and-go traffic and/or searching for parking, the price savings of Car2Go can easily be wiped out.

        For all-day trips, on the other hand, Car2Go’s main competition is Zipcar and other rental car services. Assuming you don’t need to carry 3 people, I actually find Car2Go more convenient than Zipcar because I can make the trip at the spur of the moment without bothering to go online and reserve a car in advance. Being able to end the trip in front of my house (even if I had to walk a ways to pick up the car at the start of the trip) is also extremely convenient. When Car2Go’s $50 weekend special rates are in effect, the service beats Zipcar on price, also. If the special rates were in effect every weekend, I would seriously consider terminating my Zipcar membership.

    1. To a point. These spend less time parked than ordinary cars, taking up less parking space per time. They really are shorter cars, so take up less space, period.

      Finally, the ability to take and pay for one-way trips also makes them uniquely suited for enabling transit trips, e.g. you barely missed the first, infrequent leg of the trip, so take car2go to the second leg.

    2. If six households share a car, and they all would otherwise have their own car and off-street parking, then the impact of the moving vehicle may be the same (if only one person drives at a time), but the impact of the parked vehicle is a few more hours in an on-street space, and the lack of demand for six garage spaces. As more people switch to car sharing, it will create enough demand for less-expensive garageless housing that developers and zoning regulators will be unable to ignore it anymore.

  4. It seems like letting Car2Go expand past 750 cars would be more useful than having 4 competing services… I’m gonna need a bigger wallet.

    1. Four companies might oversaturate the market, so there may only be one or two applicants and the ceiling isn’t reached. We won’t know until multiple companies are actually operating, but my guess is there’s a significant advantage to having a large fleet and userbase. The users have to have a membership and do some upfront work (setting up an account, downloading an app), as opposed to just chooing a taxi company from the phone book and calling them up for a single ride or just sticking out their hand. So it may not be attractive to a fourth or fifth company. Unless they all come at once and try to establish themselves as the largest second company. But are there three companies ready to do that in Seattle right now?

  5. Secretly hoping that Car2go will introduce the Smart Forfour even if that means raising the charge. There has been so many occasions where I was with 2 or 3 friends, and we needed to get somewhere, but had to use Uber or Lyft because car2go only has two seats.

    1. True to a point, but if Car2Go would have to charge the same price as Uber and Lyft to pay for the service, you, the customer, may as well just take Uber of Lyft.

  6. Will car share customers own 3-4 company cards, and hop to whatever service has one available?

    For me: yes, if the others can manage to do what Car2Go recently did: allow me to drive the vehicle with only my phone and not have to carry around another card.

  7. Maybe this means the days of having 1 car2go available in greater downtown Ballard on the weekends, while there are 50 uselessly scattered around the single family neighborhoods of Loyal Heights and Crown Hill, are done!

    1. Ballard on-street parking is at a premium. They should probably see if they can find a good off-street parking place from someone.

      The one that gets parked in my neighborhood is in a spot where they have found a place that is an easy walk from the rest of the neighborhood and the local MAX station, but is far enough from all those nobody cares if a car is parked there.

  8. Another piece of big news from the Seattle Met article:

    “Car2Go will have to serve the whole city because the ordinance mandates that if a company has been operating in Seattle for two years, like Car2Go, they have to serve the whole city. ”

    This is excellent news. Perhaps Car2Go will someday even extend to parts of Bellevue.

  9. Last week, ironically while driving a Car2Go, I happened to glimpse another parked small car* with a different brand on it: Getaround. Their website says they’re “coming soon” to Seattle, so I’m guessing the one I saw was promotional rather than actually in use as a service, but apparently they’re coming really soon.

    *I thought it was a SmartCar, but their website seems to indicate they use Mini Coopers. Which would make sense, given SmartCars are made by Car2Go’s parent Daimler.

  10. So… cars spend 150 minutes per day in RPZs and 70 minutes in paid areas. They make 6 trips, which I’ll guess average between 10 and 30 minutes — so that’s between 60 and 180 minutes driving (or paused). So that’s between 280 and 400 minutes accounted for, leaving between 1040 and 1160 minutes (between 17:20 and 19:20) parked in free zones… unless the average trip time is much longer, or there’s some other major place they spend their time I’m not aware of. If vehicles typically spent the night in the outskirts and the day in town you’d still less time than this on average in free zones.

    The free zones aren’t all residential, or even all on the outskirts… but this does suggest there’s a lot of truth to the observation that Car2Go vehicles languish, maybe for days, in outlying residential areas, and that expanding the service area would make the system less efficient and more prone to vehicle stagnation and shortages in the most active areas, especially in the evening.

    As an extremely boring person that doesn’t make a ton of random trips and gets around mostly on a pogo stick (which I own myself, thank you very much) it’s not my problem. If the city forces the company to expand to the extent of Seattle’s rather arbitrary boundaries, and that’s not good for the company or for users, it’ll be up to someone else to complain. I could be wrong anyway, working from so little information…

    1. Car2Go has mentioned to me on Twitter that they have people go and move cars that have sat for a while (that length of time wasn’t defined) and I’ve gotten an alert on my phone app telling me that some cars are priced at a discount to others for whatever reason. I’ve assumed that the “whatever reason” is because the car has sat or is in a lower-demand area.

    2. There is definitely a network effect, in that you can only take Car2Go (for a reasonable price) if both origin and destination points are within the home area. So, any home area expansion allows more potential trips for everybody.

      As to the problem of cars sitting around for days, that is a problem that can be solved with appropriate price incentives for far less than what it would cost to pay people to move cars around. Sure, people who live in Magnolia or Sunset Hill are probably not Car2Go users. But with enough of a discount for trips originating in low-demand areas, eventually people will take one of the cars downtown, if nothing else, to avoid the expense of parking their personal car.

      One idea I thought of to manage different levels of demand in different parts of the city is to create a notion of a “core” home area an an “extended” home area. Any trip that ends in the “extended” area would be subject to a small surcharge (perhaps $3-5). Any trip that begins in the “extended” area would be discounted by the same amount (up to the pre-tax price of the rental, you could never drive for a negative price). If a trip both begins and ends in the extended area, the surcharge and discount would cancel out, so the net result would be simply the normal prices. With the right surcharge/discount amount and the right boundaries for the core/extended area, the proper balance could be struck to keep most of the cars in the high-demand areas, while still providing service to lower-demand areas.

      There are also a few very isolated corners of Magnolia and Lauralhurst that could probably stand to be removed from the home area altogether.

      1. The shape of the “extended” area, as you suggest with your “isolated corners of Magnolia and Laurelhurst” comment, would be… irregular. Painting with a thin brush rather than a broad one is likely most accurate, particularly in places where commercial areas are thin. A vehicle parked on the Greenwood Ave or Columbia City commercial strips should be more likely to turn over quickly than one parked a couple blocks off. Maybe it’s not the far reaches that are the “extended” area so much as the depths of single-use zones (typically residential).

        Of course businesses would not want Car2Go to encourage use of spaces outside their front doors for residential parking. Which means they wouldn’t want the city to allow that…

      2. Thinking about the problem some more, the “extended home area” notion does introduce a fair bit of extra complexity to the system.

        Here is a three-pronged approach that might work as an alternative:
        1) Provide a small discount (say, $3 or 20%, whichever is less) for cars that actually turn over within some period of time (say, 1-2 hours) of the trip ending. This provides a small, but noticeable incentive to leave the car somewhere where another user is likely to pick it up, without the need to write a bunch of bureaucratic rules detailing exactly where such locations might be. In practice, common sense about which return locations would be most likely to receive the discount, would probably be accurate.
        2) If a car sits idle for an unusually long period of time, start offering incentives in the form “the first n minutes of the next trip with this car is free”, with the value of n growing larger and larger the longer the car sits, up to some maximum. The exact formula would presumably be a proprietary algorithm that would be refined periodically with data, but as long as the app clearly displays the number of incentive minutes for each car, it doesn’t really matter.
        3) If necessary, a slight increase to the standard per-minute rate to pay for 1) and 2).

      3. I guess that’s where it comes back to the broad-brush land use imbalance. If you get a discount for moving a stagnant car, and the stagnant cars are mostly deep in far-out residential areas and moved primarily according to the peak flows that stress the system most, that discount turns into a periodic discount for far-out peak-direction users (because those aren’t the parts of town people visit often)… I would say that encourages more peaky usage, but it’s really sort of like peak-direction CBD transit, where it’s cheaper than parking downtown for the day, so users might not be so price-sensitive anyway.

        If you get a discount for leaving the car somewhere where it gets picked up quickly, that’s a periodic discount for users in the system’s core, wherever that is and however it’s shaped.

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