Geekwire reports that the carshare company will shut down across North America in February. Cars will start disappearing well before then.
This step is not surprising. Lime recently shut down their similar Limepod service. ShareNow itself is a merger from weakness of two previous competitors. Recent tinkering with the fee structure was a likely signal of operational problems. Only Zipcar, with a membership fee and slightly longer rental periods, remains.
Meanwhile, Limebike is using the December expiry of its permit to punt on the unprofitable winter season, coming back in the Spring when Seattle starts allowing electric scooters. If other cities’ experience is an indication, the scooters will dominate and the bikes will wind down. Only Jump remains as a bikeshare option this winter.
We’ll see how the scooters work out. But it’s clear that the current business models are fragile. Constrained in price between unsustainably lossmaking (and far more convenient) ridehailing apps on one end, and the repositioning costs associated with bad zoning and overly large service areas on the other, both are economically marginal enterprises at best.
While a continent-wide demise can’t reasonably be blamed on the Seattle City Council, the threat of regulation and constant pressure for a new business model to immediately be “equitable” surely hasn’t helped.
Carshare was a great alternative to car ownership for poorly-served transit trips and a solution to last-mile problems. It also would have been an excellent corporate platform from which to deploy autonomous vehicles, increasing competition to make sure their benefits flowed to consumers instead of investors.
Although short-term rentals probably aren’t viable with ride-hailing priced where it is, unsustainable things eventually stop. When they do, there may be an economic space for these cars. If so, it would be wise not to load responsibility for the city’s social divides on a useful service that will always occupy a narrow niche between cheaper transit and expensive but convenient taxis.
In the meantime, I’m sorry to see carshare go. I found it to be a useful complement to transit, and it made it much easier not to own a car.