Car2Go in Pioneer Square
Shane in the City/Flickr

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.

47 Replies to “ShareNow ceasing operations, Limebike pauses”

  1. I think the electric scooters will be popular for those that live within the first hill/Capitol hill/SLU/area. Particularly for going up hill. With that in mind, I wonder how they do uphill? Even though, I enjoy taking the occasional bus trip for longer distance rides, I can see many others opting for a scooter ride on a nice day. Particularly if you are only traveling a mile or so.

    1. I have used a lime scooter once, so take this for what it’s worth, and it slowed to below a walking pace going up a steep hill in Tacoma.

      1. I’m a pretty big guy (obese) and there were some scooters in Nashville that would take me up hill. There seemed to be 2 sizes, and only the bigger ones would work uphill. But some would not. The hills here are even steeper and I imagine for the overweight, the scooters won’t be a good option uphill. when it’s flat though, watch out, these things are pretty fun to ride.

    2. Scooters suck going up hills, useless if you’re a big guy. They’re awesome on the flat though — much better than Line bikes.

  2. With Uber/Lyft dumping product in the market a booming economy, and low gas prices, I’m not surprised at this. It may come back at some point in the future when this VC-fueled nonsense subsides (the next recession/depression).

    1. I can only imagine the service cuts after the next recession. Transit typically takes a hit after a recession.

    2. I agree. Uber/Lyft are so convenient (and often affordable) that reach now became an afterthought for many people. People don’t want to have to walk a couple blocks to find a car when a car could come to them instead. When the economy is booming, people will generally choose convenience over saving a couple bucks. That equation may change in the next recession.

      1. In my experience Lyft is usually about the same price as Car2Go/LimePod anyway, and also you don’t have to worry about a bunch of confusing checkout/checkin procedures or have as much risk about getting in a car accident, especially if you’re only an occasional driver.

  3. Good riddance to bad rubbish. The modern -sharing and -hailing economies were an awful idea to begin with. The sooner they go the way of the Dodo the better. Uber and Lyft never would have existed if taxi service wasn’t so subpar. As we now know, competition didn’t improve taxi service. Improve taxis through legislation and mass transit through funding and you’ll see for profit bike, scooter, and car sharing disappear.

    1. AJ, they are not going away. In fact, by 2050 with the advent of self driving cars they will become increasingly popular. Eventually, Uber will own a fleet of self driving cars that will become an integral backbone for urban transportation. Buses too will by the end of this century become automated. Buses will continue to serve the role of moving mass amount of people in a constrained space. But for many suburban locations, self driving cars will become the norm. Particularly, as more and more jobs move to remote work. And fewer people need to commute on a daily basis. The 2100s will be very different from the 2000s. We would be wise to build a transit system that is not overly obsolete by end of century.

      1. I highly doubt self driving cars will become the norm by 2050. Key aspects of Federal law will have to change first, and I don’t see that happening in my lifetime.

    2. I took an Uber to the airport from Ballard for a scheduled early morning flight– 50 bucks plus tip. Reachnow rented for an hour from SeaTac to Ballard– 30 bucks (including all taxes and fees). I think there is still a market for a floating car share if they keep operating costs down– maintenance and inexpensive cars– I really didn’t need to drive home in a Mercedes A class when a hyundai accent would have accomplished the same (Yes, I know the A class is a better driving car, but I’m just trying to go point A to B)

  4. Over time, I expect for car sharing to not be a stand-alone business but instead a part of a larger feature in a company with a reason to offer it. I’m not sure if it will be a retailer that delivers (Walmart? Safeway? Amazon?), a mobile data company (ATT? T-Mobile?), an auto insurance company (Allstate? Geico?) or some other corporation that would gain an edge over its competitors by offering it.

    There is value in offering a nearby vehicle as “insurance” even if it is rarely used.

  5. I’m convinced that Uber/Lyft only excel because the companies do not actually own the vehicles.

    E-bikes are clearly toast for the same reason–the high cost of owning, maintaining, and repositioning the fleet.

    E-scooters only work because they are disposable. The average scooter only lasts a month. That isn’t sustainable either.

    Making cars autonomous doesn’t help, it’s not going to be cheap to maintain a fleet of tens of thousands of cars in every city. Maybe private vehicles will drive for Uber/Lyft when their owners are not using them? If we no longer need street parking then we can finally build out the bike network.

    1. Fully autonomous cars have a lot of safety issues to work out. They’re not coming in the next few years no matter how much vaporware the industry spews. What will happen is conventional cars are getting incrementally more autonomous (but still require a driver for tricky situations), and autonomous vehicles on limited corridors will arrive first. It’s easier to guarantee a corridor with limited distractions is safe than to guarantee all existing neighborhoods are safe. So they’ll probably first appear in industrial campuses and dedicated BRT lanes. But… Pugetopolis doesn’t have any dedicated BRT lanes — just a few blocks planned on Madison and 1st Avenue.

    2. A pedal bicycle is a 19th century contraption that falls over when stopped. It contains not a single safety feature — lane change alert, seat belts, air bags, crumple zones — developed over the past century. A pedal bicycle is inefficient for moving goods, trade tools or people in skirts/suits. It is easy to steal. Its share of the commuter marketplace is a statistical blip despite ridiculous sums of money spent over the last decade. I appreciate the lets-get-healthy aspect of biking, but I’d rather have load zones and customer parking than bike lanes on arterials. Let the future be something new. Not something old that had its chance and failed.

      1. Its share of the commuter marketplace is a statistical blip despite ridiculous sums of money spent over the last decade.

        Oh really? Do tell, because last time I checked spending on bikes were a mere pittance compared to spending on automobiles. Oh, and trains and cars are also fairly old as well, might as well give up on all of them.

        A pedal bicycle is inefficient for moving goods, trade tools or people in skirts/suits.

        I’m going to go way out a limb here and guess you are an American. People wearing suits and skirts while biking is common in Europe and Asia. As far as goods are concerned, no one was suggesting we get rid of trucks and replace them with bikes.

        I’d rather have load zones and customer parking than bike lanes

        Uh huh, maybe because you don’t quite grasp the significance of this picture: It takes a lot more space to store a car than it does a bike. Moving people via a bus takes a lot less space than both. To quote the article from which that picture was borrowed, In cities, urban space is the ultimate currency. Wasting it on parking is not very smart.

      2. All of those safety features are to protect drivers from their car’s dangerously high speed, the car itself, and other drivers’ cars. Separated from car traffic bikes don’t need those things. As the Seattle Bike Blog pointed out, bike lanes are actually car lanes. They only need to exist to protect people biking from people driving cars.

        I like to call your other point the “all drivers are plumbers” argument. Yes, tradespeople and suburban parents with 5 children can’t reasonably cycle to their appointments. The idea is we should allow and encourage people to cycle and walk to at least some of the large number of solo trips that don’t require hauling large objects.

        A big point of this blog is to encourage dense cities where cars aren’t needed for most trips. The dream is for kids to live within walking distance to school, people to be able to walk to their dentist and the market, and interact with their society. In this model cycling a mile for an appointment or to see a friend would be the most sensible way to travel that distance. I think advocating replacing short solo trips with non motorised transportation is a reasonable starting point.

        The suburban idea popularized by our leaders in business and government 75 years ago just doesn’t mesh with what this blog is all about. Having kids going to schools and doctors and shopping at stores 10 miles away is not sustainable in the model I think most readers of this blog are advocating.

        Do you also think we should replace sidewalks with parking lots because most people don’t walk to their destinations?

      3. “inefficient for moving goods”

        Given that most of the vehicles moving goods only use about 2% of their energy to actually move goods, I think you need to look up the definition of “efficient”.

        Our current system only works because we have cheap energy. If we decide to finally charge the full cost of driving, including externalities; that equation changes.

      4. “The dream is for kids to live within walking distance to school, people to be able to walk to their dentist and the market, and interact with their society.”

        Grandmother whines, “Why would I want to go to Man-HAT-tan? I’ve got everything I need here in Brooklyn Heights.”

        I experienced the same when I lived in the dorms at the U and later in an apartment in the U-District. Many people found everything they needed in the district within walking distance, and only left the district once a month or so, or left it only for work or to visit relatives or church. Most neighborhoods should be like that, instead of only a few.

  6. | 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.

    A corporation that doesn’t take care of it’s shareholders doesn’t last too long.

    1. Have you seen CEO salaries for the past two decades? Even when they run the companies into the ground they’re getting multimillion-dollar golden parachutes. CEOs have generally captured the investors and make the companies run on their own interests.

  7. My experience with Car2Go was that being able to quickly find street parking was very important to my willingness to use it. Getting rid of the smartcar fleet killed a lot of the usefulness for me – they were just so much easier to park than the standard cars that replaced them.

    1. +1. I stopped using it when they dumped the Smart cars. They drove like shit but the parking flexibility more than made up for it.

      1. +1 With a smart car you could always find that one parking spot too small for everyone else.

  8. I’d be curious if Zipcar makes money./what it’s profit margin is Granted its at fixed locations, but they have decent cars available for folks on the hour, but you do have to return to the same spot/one way drop to specific parking lot. Reachnow, after it went to a BMW and Mercedes fleet, made no sense to me from a financial standpoint. Maintenance costs and the price of vehicles are too high. Too bad domestic car dealers are getting out of making cars, I would think a Chevy Spark/Sonic, ford fiesta fleet that operated as floating carshare might work. Hopefully, someone gets a fleet of Hyundai Accent/honda fit/toyota corollas– durable, cheap to run cars– launches a service while our craptacular transit system (E-W travel anyone? Ballard to West Seattle or Cap Hill) remains in existence.

    1. Between Uber, Lyft, and Amazon, I have found hourly rental cars to be largely obsolete. For anything shopping, it’s easier to just order online and let them deliver. For social events, the $15/hour to rent the car while it’s parked makes it almost always not worth it – Uber and Lyft are usually the same price or cheaper. Only for trips to rural areas, behind the reach of Uber and Lyft, are rental cars still worth doing. And those trips effectively require renting the car for all day.

      With out of town trips heavily concentrated on weekends and holidays, I would guess that Zipcar has a big problem, where their cars are oversubscribed weekends, but sitting idle on weekdays. That would explain why outside the densest neighborhoods, it’s simply not profitable absent a subsidy (e.g. the Microsoft campus).

      Perhaps one potential replacement for the convenience that Car2Go offers can be surprisingly low tech. A traditional rental company offering the option to have the car delivered to your home for an additional fee.

      1. You’re forgetting errands for people that don’t own a car. That was my primary use of car2go/ReachNow. I’m considering getting a Zipcar subscription now for that purpose.

    2. Zipcar’s advantage is the car is guaranteed to be there. With Car2Go and its successors you can take a car one way but there’s no guarantee there will be one available when you want to return. And if there’s a car and parking space near you that you like, you can use it repeatedly and don’t have to hunt around for a different car each time. It’s better for round trips than one-way trips, but people make more round trips than some might realize, and it’s especially convenient for carrying groceries home. You can also rent it for the weekend for an extended road trip; you can’t do that with the one-way services or ridershares.

      1. Yup, ZIpcar is great for an errand, an appointment, etc. Car2go/floating car shares were great for 1 way trips (to bars for drinking. airport to catch a flight, etc.). When I lent my car to my parents, I used both (and if I needed a car for a weekend trip out of town, I’d use Enterprise (because they can pick you up if you close enough to one of their stations).

      2. As anecdotal support, the last time I used a Zipcar, I took BoltBus to Portland and then a Zipcar to a funeral far from any TriMet transit and back, then BoltBus home.

  9. As someone without a car who bike commutes most days, I found Limebike very useful for on-demand last-mile trips to/from transit. I will miss having it has an option.

    I don’t have any other transportation expenses so I never paid attention to the price. Scrolling through my 92 rides on the app, it looks like I never spent more than $7 on a ride, with the average ebike ride being closer to $3.50. Interestingly my last non-ebike ride was in January 2019.

    It would be nice if these unprofitable operations would break down the subsidization of the ride so users could see the true operating cost vs how much they paid. “$3 discount from Benchmark Capital applied to this ride.”

    Maybe it could be incorporated into private automobiles as well: “This trip is costing society $12 more than you paid!”

    I only used car2go once, to save an hour compared to the bus. Besides shifting into neutral on the freeway when I was trying to turn on the wipers, it was a good experience. Probably cheaper than a Lyft, and no awkward conversation or being dropped off in a bike lane.

    Thanks for the fun times, Limebike!

  10. Once Uber and Lyft made available cheaper tiers of service, particularly sharing rides with strangers, it was often the same price or cheaper than Car2go and Reachnow. As others have mentioned, you were paying by the minute until you found a parking spot.

  11. “Between Uber, Lyft, and Amazon, I have found hourly rental cars to be largely obsolete. For anything shopping, it’s easier to just order online and let them deliver.”

    How do you feel about Amazon driving local retailers out of business and making neighborhoods economically non-viable (i.e., losing jobs)? Or does the fact that Amazon itself is a local company make that a non-issue here?

    I still prefer independent retailers and small chains, and will generally try three stores before ordering something from Amazon. Unless it’s something I can’t carry without a car (like a bed frame) or so obscure I know the stores won’t have it (like my ambient/electrowing CDs), then I go straight to Amazon. Or when the choice is between,, or, why are those any more deserving than Amazon?

    1. I don’t fight progress or change. I have zero issues with online shopping, self driving cars/buses, artificial intelligence. We must all adapt to the realities of the 21st century and eventually the 22nd centuries.

      1. I, for one, welcome our new plutocratic overlords.

        Actually, no, I don’t. I’m one of those crazy loons that thinks that the greatest middle class the world has ever known was caused by a combination of antitrust regulation and social services spending known as the New Deal. The Nixonian idea of a basic income (or, as he proposed, a negative income tax) are all well and good, but what we really need is to get back to the principles enacted by FDR. Some call that socialism of course (it is right there, in the words “Social Security”) but what it really means is a well regulated, mixed economy that at one point was the envy of the world.

    2. The long-term result of Amazonification is possibly one company controlling a majority of retail and a few other big companies gobbling up the rest. That will result in massive job losses. Do you support a universal basic income so that jobs are no longer as much of a necessity? Or do you have other ideas?

      1. Considering Amazon received a $129 million tax rebate from the federal government in 2018, it is hard to call the current set of circumstances capitalism. It’s basically government subsidized (through specific tax breaks) concentration of wealth from local businesses to a single individual.

        Tax reform that allows Amazon to be taxed at the same rate as local businesses might alter their business model a bit, and home delivery of materials might increase in price.

    3. I definitely prefer shopping at local retailers and I do try to do so when I can. For instance, a large majority of my grocery shopping happens on foot. But, when I need something that is too far or too bulky to carry on foot, I will order off Amazon before paying for a rental car to drive to a store.

      1. My #1 delivery mode of purchases by dollar value is my own feet. I am fortunate to have a QFC close to home. Transit is probably next – I work downtown so I can easily buy something on my lunch break or after work.

        I find online shopping to be less convenient for my shopping habits. No lost or stolen items. No boxes to break down. Delivery is on my schedule. Fewer returns. All of those things are annoying.

      2. Right, it doesn’t make sense to spend $30 to drive something home to avoid mail-order. And I don’t drive so that’s not an option anyway. When we’ve used a Zipcar it’s to take stuff to Goodwill (which earns you a discount on the Zipcar rate) and round it up with a big Costco run, and once I also took some broken chairs and drain cleaner bottles to the dump in the same 2-hour trip.

  12. I’m bummed about losing free floating car share. This has been a very useful tool for getting around. I typically take the bus/train whenever I can, but sometime I am going to odd and distant locations for site meeting and having a car to transport items and keep in the car while parked made it superior to Uber or Lyft.

    Zip Car, while not even close to the same as Car2Go, would be perfect for most of my situations, but there is no lots where I live, Westwood Village, or where I work, Georgetown, so it’s not a viable option.

    Sorry to lose out on this and hope a good solution returns in the future.

  13. Carsharing is a big paradigm shift that probably required more investment from both the companies and the city to get off the ground. Mercedes and BMW needed to make a much bigger investment in the fleet and the city needed a whole lot more carrots AND sticks to incentivize ridership.

    They claimed something like 150,000 members in the city, which is roughly 1 in 4 adults in the city. The interest is clearly there, if the regulatory and capital investments could be made to get the flywheel going. I’m not sure, though, that the city was politically able to make the necessary investments that would have been viewed as giveaways to a private company.

    1. Lack of capital is not the biggest problem with car sharing — there is no magic point when it scales to success (the way that, say, cell phones did). The biggest problem is that it is niche market. In a city with really good transit, it isn’t needed. In a big city with lots of people wanting point to point transportation, a cab (whether old school or new) is affordable and more convenient. Parking is difficult, curb side pickup on a busy street isn’t.

      Nor does it work well at the other extreme. In a low density area, you won’t have many customers. It makes sense to occasionally rent a car to go outside the city, but car rental companies have been doing that for years.

      Unlike a bike, you can’t just hop on, peddle for a few blocks in a very crowded city, and hop off. If offers no advantage in an urban environment, while being nothing special in a suburban or rural one. Niche, niche, niche.

      Again, it doesn’t scale. Ten thousand, a hundred thousand, a million short term rental cars on the street — is that a good thing? Of course not. In contrast, the more bikes the better, as long as they are docked. You won’t get a million, obviously, but consider that the best bike share programs in the world are in huge cities. China dominates the top ten list, with the biggest Western cities being Paris, London and New York. Bikes scale. Transit scales. They both work together really well. Cars don’t scale, and conflict with the other uses, making them a niche, which is always hard to pull off, given the cost.

      It just means that people will pay for a cab, or find traditional car rental agencies that offer hourly rates (both ways that companies have extended into the niche market). No big loss, in my opinion.

      Now the bike share failures, that is a different matter. A city this size should have a thriving bike share system, with docks, but we screwed up. We ignored what other cities have done, and then came up with all sorts of weird excuses for our failure, and now things have pretty much turned out as expected (more failure).

      1. I get your point. But I think of it this way: there are, say, a quarter million privately owned autos in the city. Wouldn’t we be better off as a city if, say, 50,000 of them were replaced by 1000 shared cars? Or do you think such a scenario is impossible?

  14. How about if we charged each of the private auto manufacturers $1 million annual fee to allow their cars to operate and park on the public ROW in Seattle? As a CO2-share pilot project? The mayor and council sure don’t seem to want to allow low-emissions modes of personal transportation in this City.

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