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Share Now (neé Car2go), in an email to members:

In an effort to improve the availability of the SHARE NOW fleet in areas of Seattle where they are most frequently requested, we are instituting a zone based pricing system, that will include either a Zone Fee or Zone Discount depending on the type of trip a member takes. The new model enables us to continue to offer our service to all areas of Seattle, a city requirement, while also providing incentives to members who bring our vehicles out of areas where cars sit idle for extended periods of time and into areas where they are most in-demand.

Less urbanized areas of the city, where cars were presumably seeing less utilization. Erica has a quote from the company’s spokespeople:

Kendell Kelton, the North America communications manager for Share Now, says the new policy is designed to eliminate the problem of cars getting “stranded for 12 hours or more, effectively making them unavailable for a majority of our Seattle members who would otherwise use those vehicles.” Currently, she says, one in five Share Now cars has to be relocated “in order to be close enough for members who need them.” (That might explain why it’s consistently so hard to find cars in West and Southeast Seattle.) “It should be noted we see much higher usage in more commercialized areas than residential ones,” Kelton says.

The current city car sharing regulations allow up to 4 companies to offer 750 cars each. With BMW’s Reach Now out of the picture, we have just two: Share Now and Lime (I don’t believe Getaround or Zipcar count towards the 4?). Share Now is maxed out, while Lime’s service, which started in the Spring, has grown by 300% and “has seen extraordinary success” according to spokesman (and friend of STB) Jonathan Hopkins.

The idea is clearly popular, and it seems likely that Seattlites would use the cars more often if there were more around. According to one study we covered, each carshare vehicle in the city removes as many as 10 private cars.

Carsharing has enormous capital outlays (the Mercedez-Benz GLA starts at $34k) and there seem to be winner-take-all dynamics to vehicle sharing, which says to me that it’s unlikely we’ll see four companies dive in to this market.

Since companies are forced to cover the entire city by the terms of their agreement, it would probably make more sense to raise or eliminate the cap and let the remaining companies determine how many cars the market will bear.

42 Replies to “Carsharing probably needs more cars”

  1. So…we’re satisfied being held hostage by a company who has eliminated the competition and is now the dominate force in the Seattle car-sharing world? Are we really satisfied this arbitrary, zone-based system penalizes drivers based on where they live or have a travel need. And, most importantly, have we not noticed Zone B includes many of the more affordable places to live within Seattle?

    1. Even if you live in zone B, as long as you take an equal number trips from home as you do to home, the fees and discounts will cancel out, and your net cost will be the same as before. Only people who live in zone B and keep driving the cars home, but let the accumulate by never driving them the opposite direction will be penalized.

      Except for Othello/Rainier Beach (a situation that could be dealt by by just shifting the zonal boundary, rather than throwing it out entirely), zone B is almost exclusively single-family homes. Without the changes, cars that sit there have to be moved out with paid labor, which is very expensive because they have to pay a second driver in a second car to transport the first driver that moves the actual fleet car. Under the current system, I can easily imagine lots of trips where Car2Go receives $8 in (pretax) revenue, which creates $20 in labor expenses. This is not sustainable, and paying for it by increasing the per-minute rate for everyone else is not fair to everyone else.

    2. Right. If Seattle has a rule to cover the whole city they should be required to cover the city equally. What’s stopping them from introducing more fare zones? They can claim this is incentivizing people to distribute cars but this is clearly a cash-grab. People will drive where they need to go, regardless of the “discount”.

    3. I’m personally not satisfied, which should be apparent from the title of the post. Can’t speak for others.

      1. Sorry, I was not interpreting use of the word “probably” as a definitive stance on the matter.

    4. Uh, Zone B includes Laurelhurst, a very expensive part of Magnolia, and a large swath of NE Seattle that has extremely expensive homes.

      Zone A includes the Central District, about half of Rainier Valley, and the Aurora and Lake City corridors.

    5. Zipcar is probably not included because its cars live in dedicated spaces leased in private garages.

    6. It’s pretty arbitrary in some areas – for example, in NE Seattle the line appears to be drawn on 40th Avenue NE, north to NE 85th Street, then west on 85th to 35th Ave NE and north on 35th into Lake City. There is no functional difference in housing on either side of that arbitrary line until you get far enough east (Sand Point Way in the north, far eastern View Ridge in the south) to have lake view properties. Yes, Laurelhurst, Windermere and far eastern View Ridge – again, once you get to the lake view area – have more expensive housing stock, but along most of that boundary the line is nothing if not arbitrary as it actually bisects the neighborhoods it runs through.

    7. car2go has been operational in Seattle since 2012 and we’re supposed to believe vehicle distribution is suddenly an issue despite surging membership and city population? I don’t believe it. Why are they just now solving this problem nearly seven years in and so immediately after the clumsy demise of ReachNow? Show city council the data!

      I want to know the precise trip details that led to the creation of these arbitrary zones. You can argue that single-family homes are the enemy, and while it may be true in certain, small pockets, it’s not the experience that I have in my own (Zone B) neighborhood. Also overlooked are the people who rent rooms or groups of individuals who rent entire single-family homes. That is also what I know to be true in my own (Zone B) neighborhood. There are degrees of density and variations in household income not being considered. And if you take a closer look at the map, there are definite corridors within Zone B not served by frequent transit. We expect equal access to transit so why should this transportation alternative, mandated to serve the city, be any different? Show city council the data!

      car2go is permitted to serve the entire city. If this zone-based system is to stay, I’m shocked city council isn’t insisting on having a place at the decision-making table (or, at the very least, asking for data to understand the zoning selection details). Show city council the data!

      An aside – my own experience: I’m privileged to live in a single-family home, own a vehicle, and have an all-expenses-paid transit pass subsidized by my employer. I now live in Zone B. I frequently take transit (Metro) to work despite the fact that it takes over 30 minutes longer than a vehicle trip and requires a ~15 minute walk or multiple buses. Very rarely is there a car-share vehicle for me to utilize in my neighborhood in the morning. This typically works out well for me anyway as my morning commute is the most reliable. When I rely on car-share vehicles the most is when Metro fails me and is, more often than not, when I make my 6 mile return trip home in the evening. Because I’m weird and pay attention to these things (and walk my dog throughout the neighborhood), I can tell you that the vehicles I bring home vanish within 30 minutes to 1 hour of me ending my trip. So, why is my neighborhood in Zone B? Show me the data!

      In this scenario, I’m already voluntarily accepting a time penalty by taking transit. When things go south because the bus is extremely late, too full, or just doesn’t show I am now additionally frustrated and rushed to get home or make evening appointments. Yet I’m supposed to accept a $4.99 convenience fee (on top of peak surcharges and user fees) because I’ve opted out of personal vehicle travel and the city/county can’t adequately transport me the 6 miles to my home within 1 hour? I’m sorry but this is not how you get people out of their vehicles!

      1. You’re acting as though Car2Go is the only alternative to personal vehicle travel besides public transit. It isn’t. There are also Lime cars. And there is Uber. And there is Lyft. If Car2Go is too expensive for your particular trip, just take one of the other three car-based alternatives. It’s that simple.

        Depending on the particular trip, you might be able to save even more by riding Link partway and using the car-service only for the end of the trip. In the case of southeast Seattle, you can even use the Via app instead of Lyft and Uber, and let somebody else pay for the car service.

        Of course, there are some trips, like all-day out of town trips where Uber and Lyft aren’t options. In that case, since your trip will both end and start in zone B, there will be no additional fees.

      2. I already primarily use Lime because it’s cheaper than car2go even before these new rate policies go into effect. Also, have you tried taking Lyft or Uber 6 miles (or more) during rush hour? It is not cheap and hardly a comparable alternative.

        Though, I’ll be sure to use Link when it’s a 10 minute walk from my house in 2024. Perspective lol.

  2. The zonal changes feel much overdue. Relying on paid labor to move every car that ends up in Sand Point makes zero sense. Since moving a car requires paying a second worker to drive around in a second car, every trip there is probably costing the company significantly more money in gas+labor than what it is receiving in trip revenue. In fact, I vaguely remember even suggesting a scheme just like this on an STB thread a couple of years ago.

    With this change, hopefully, the need to pay people to drive around just to move cars around will be greatly reduced, and, in the process, help keep prices down.

    One thing I especially like about is that even people who do drive to zone B are not penalized, so long as they do it in a round trip (the zone fee they pay in the outbound trip gets credited right back on the inbound trip).

  3. I would also go even further and say such a zonal system should probably be instituted for bike sharing and scooter sharing as well. And, the fact that it hasn’t has a lot to do with why the cost of a bike ride has ballooned to nearly the cost of an Uber ride. Those leaving their vehicles in places that effectively force the company to send paid staff to move them around should pay for it, while those that don’t should not.

    For bikesharing, I would consider going even further than a zonal system and consider offering a monthly subscription that would allow for unlimited rides, up to 30 minutes in duration, but only for trips that end at designated virtual docks shown in the app (which would, of course, be limited to areas of high demand). For example, imagine $50/month buying unlimited rides between Fremont and U-district, while if you want to take a Lime bike down the Burke-Gilman further to Matthew’s Beach, you’d still be able to do it, but the trip would not be included in the subscription, and you’d be charged $0.25/minute.

    There are so many reasons why bikeshare is cheaper to operate when the trips end and designated high-demand points. The designated points would all be in furniture zones, so no need to send crews around to get the bikes out of the way of pedestrians. They would be in high-demand areas, so no need to send crews to make a special trip in van just to move one bike. When the batteries need charging, a single crew member would be able to swap out a whole bunch of batteries with just one trip.

    In a world where you can leave bikes anywhere, a monthly subscription is probably not sustainable because too many trips would impose too much labor costs to move bikes around (and it would be too tempting to park a bike in your back yard so it effectively becomes your private bike). I think a model where leaving a bike anywhere out of the way is allowed, just not included in the subscription, strikes a reasonable balance between keeping the business sustainable, keeping the prices down for frequent users that don’t cause problems, while still making it at least possible to travel to areas with less demand.

    1. If you’re staying in the city, car sharing is rarely worth the cost compared to taking a lyft, especially when you factor in the stress/cost of parking. If you’re leaving the city it’s far cheaper to rent a car by the day from enterprise or avis. It’s not a sustainable business model, period.

      1. The business model is people willing to pay for the convenience of not having to spend 30 minutes, each way, traveling to the Enterprise or Avis, followed by more minutes waiting in line. You just pick up the car and go.

        It also remains to be seen how much of Lyft’s price advantage over carshare is real, and how much is a combination of venture capital subsidy and tax advantages. The fact that carshare has a 17% tax on every trip, while Lyft is charged only a flat 10 cents per trip is not a level playing field.

      2. I’m with barman. The model seems like it is based on a weird niche. Like taxi-cabs, it offers an advantage over transit in that it can go exactly where you want to go. But unlike taxi-cabs, it requires the user to drive. So someone who is drunk, really high or doesn’t have a license can’t use it. It also requires lots of users, with cars everywhere. In contrast, a taxi-cab will pick you up — even if you are the only fare all day. Both scale up (more users pushes the price down) but car sharing requires a lot of use, while cabs don’t. If there are a lot of customers for car sharing, then there are likely to be a lot of customers for taxi-cabs as well as transit. More cab riders pushes the price down; more transit riders improves the system. Meanwhile, if you are renting all day, then a company like Enterprise is cheaper.

        Thus it less convenient than taxi-cabs, while being more expensive than public transit or traditional rental cars. It scales up as well as taxi-cabs, but doesn’t scale down. It doesn’t scale up as well as public transit. That is a tough, tiny niche.

      3. sleeknub, parking isn’t free when you’re spending $.45 a minute looking for a spot, which can be excruciating. I’ve spent longer looking for parking than it took getting to my destination.

      4. I have found that if I am having a few adult beverages where there is lousy transit (Most of Seattle), taking a Shared car oneway and Lyft-ing home is the way to do it. The shared car is cheaper than a Lyft for me.

        It will be interesting to see if Getaround thrives in Seattle. It sounds promising– an Air BnB for cars– which makes sense for most of us who use our cars only on weekends

      5. When Car2go started there was no Lyft or Uber. I think people take the cars on shopping trips where it would be inconvenient to load up somebody’s taxi, plus run the risk there won’t be one when you’re ready to go home. Now that rideshares exist, Car2go is in an awkward middle between Zipcars that are guaranteed to be in the same space when available, vs Car2go that’s in some random place that may or may not be near you, vs Uber/Lyft that come to you and you don’t have to drive them or park them.

      6. What is Getaround and Share Now (which sounds like SHARE/WHEEL, an opinionated homeless-services group)? What does “airbnb for cars” mean?

      7. @barman I agree, I’m not sure that pay-by-the-minute is sustainable given the cost of the vehicles. LimePod was rumored to be looking at a $7K French-made electric car with a top speed of 30mph at one point. For that money you can litter the streets with them.

        Also I think Zipcar has a good use case – the all-day road trip or IKEA run – and I’m not surprised that Share Now has started offering daily rates in an effort to capture some of that usage. How many times to you hear a Seattle resident say “I would love to give up my car but I might want to go hiking some weekend” or some variation of that?

      8. We’ve used Zipcar for a weekend trip to Aberdeen and Ocean Shores. There’s an all-day weekend rate.

      9. I actually find the airport availability more useful than anything else – it’s insurance that enables you to use transit to get there while having a way home that’s normally quite a bit less money than cab fare or Uber/Lyft if you miss the last train of the night. Without it I’d be far more likely to drive to the airport and park for shorter trips.

        Link’s last trains – particularly on Sunday night, which is a busy arrival time at the airport – do not run late enough to pick up all of the late flight arrival bank – and even if you have a flight scheduled early enough to make the train, if you’re delayed at all and miss it having the carshare available allows you to breathe a bit easier. Even better is that in that case, you’re driving back into town at a time where traffic is minimal and your per-minute cost is thereby minimized.

        I’d rather the trains ran late enough where I could always be assured of catching one, but west coast airports are at a disadvantage in that the earliest and latest flight banks aren’t normally accessible by anything resembling frequent transit. Carshare definitely fits that niche.

  4. What we need are self driving vehicles that spread themselves out. South Lake Union and SoDo has huge clusters weekdays. (Getting a car on Capitol Hill during the day is a challenge.) Until then I favor the zone charge and would like to see an expansion.

      1. We might have self-driving buses. The people who are pushing the expansion of self-driving cars and self-driving robotaxis and asking for dedicated lanes and tax exemptions for them, are the same ones who are pushing to gut transit grants and put regulatory barriers in their way because transit is old-fashioned, undesirable, and socialist.

  5. In my experience renting a Car2go by the day is absolutely cheaper than renting from Enterprise etc. The price that those companies quote online more than doubles when you factor in fees, taxes, insurance, and gas, most of which are included with car2go (Taxes bump up the $80 daily c2g price to about $95, at least pre fare structure change). Lots of people like to get out of the city for adventures but don’t own cars, and car2go is not only cheaper but has the advantage of being able to be dropped of right outside your home. Getaround will be a good competitor for this use of car2go, if you want to start and end in the same spot. However, car2go has another use, getting around the city, which I have also found to be cheaper than a Lyft, and parking is not a challenge when I am coming home late at night. Parking is a challenge in some neighborhoods, true. But car2go retains a foothold in several important markets.

  6. If you’re paying for extra insurance at Enterprise you’re doing it wrong. Almost any credit card will cover collision and theft. As for taxes, they’re the same rate as C2G. Gas is the only extra expense and obviously convenience is also a factor.

    Depending on what you’re doing and how long you need the car, renting by the day from Enterprise/Hertz/Avis is pretty much guaranteed to be cheaper.

  7. This is classist and most likely racist. Period.

    It doesn’t matter if it makes sense from a systems perspective. And it doesn’t matter if there happens to be a small, rich enclave in Zone B or a few dense, low income areas in Zone A.

    A simple look at the map makes it clear that the corner of the city — which are the most diverse, and most low-income neighborhoods are in Zone B. That doesn’t meet the values our City supports.

    1. The original problem remains: people leave the car in front of their low-density house and it sits there for 12 hours. That’s nice for them because it will probably still be there the next morning for them, but it’s not nice for everybody else and it’s contrary to how carshare is supposed to work. Hand-waving about “Those are the lower-income non-white neighborhoods” doesn’t help; they’re also the single-family neighborhoods, and their resistance to upzoning is why they’re hard to serve with transit, why their residents have few options, and why the cars are sitting there for so long.

  8. Lime penalizes people based on where they live. They charge you a fee if you park in Woodinville or Kirkland because they aren’t “serviced” by lime yet.

    1. Do they? If so, how much? The last time I did it was awhile ago, but I haven’t been charged anything extra.

      Of course, just the regular per-minute rate is enough, in and of itself, to make any trip in a Lime bike across the 520 bridge very expensive. UW->Kirkland ran at about $8 when Lime bikes were only $0.15/min. Tack on another 40% to today’s rates, you can ride in a (possibly shared, but usually not) Uber car for the same price.

  9. I am super bummed about this. I live in Westwood (urban village that also was upzoned recently). I don’t own a car, so car2go is super helpful for certain trips that required me to get to non-downtown destinations or where I’m going quicker. I’m lucky to still have numerous options with the bus, but it’s sad an option has become more sparse (there appears to be less cars recently) and more expensive. .

    I think equity of charging and increasing fleet size is necessary and should be required by the city.

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