Monica Nickelsburg, Geekwire:
AAA is expanding its GIG Car Share service beyond the San Francisco Bay Area to Seattle. GIG will begin rolling out cars in Seattle this April and its full fleet of 250 Toyota Priuses will be deployed in the city by May.
Small Toyota Prius C cars seem like a much more sensible choice for car sharing than full-size German sedans and SUVs. Perhaps that will hopefully give GIG a better shot at amortizing the costs.
That said, a “full fleet” 250 cars is not that many (Car2Go and ShareNow had 750 each), so it’ll be interesting to see how GIG keeps them in use and not semi-abandoned in the far-reaches of the city, while maintaining equity.
Three fundamental challenges to the car share model remain: (1) Uber/Lyft are underpriced, (2) the addressable market is small, and (3) finding a parking spot at your destination is annoying. In addition, the bifurcated Seattle market presents a particular challenge: if you live in an urban village, you likely have good transit service already. If you live outside an urban village, parking is abundant and easy so why bother?
To be sure, GIG can make progress on some of these (apparently they have dedicated parking at BART stations), but others require a rethink from a city level.
(Oh, and don’t take the cars out of cell phone range).
44 Replies to “AAA is bringing car sharing back to Seattle”
You can drive in areas without cell phone coverage, just have one of their plastic cards with you: https://gigcarshare.com/blog/gig-cards-fuel-cards/
The cards work just like the cards that Car2Go used on its Smart cars and ReachNow had across its fleet (and ZipCar still uses today).
I once took a ReachNow car into Mt. Rainier National Park (which lacks cell phone service). The plastic card did work. Hopefully, the new ones will too. Having rental cars that can’t be driven into a national park would be a big bummer.
Or better yet, turn on Bluetooth
For those of us taking care of errands (like grocery shopping) and don’t want to use Uber/Lyft or carry groceries on the bus (too many or not wanting to walk), this will help. As long as the city is covered by the return location and cars don’t just stay in one part of town, this will be good IMO.
Even if free-floating carshare is mostly replaced by Uber/Lyft for short, in-town trips, they still compete reasonably well with Zipcar for all-day out of town trips. Unlike Zipcars, which are located almost exclusively in the densest neighborhoods (e.g. downtown, Belltown, Capitol Hill), the free-floating vehicles are scattered throughout the city, allowing residents of places like Fremont, Green Lake, or Wedgwood opportunities to rent a car for a day, without having to deal with a half-hour bus ride to pick up the car, followed by another half-hour bus ride to get home after returning it.
With Zipcar, including so many cars in such places would be uneconomical because the cars wouldn’t get enough weekend use to justify having them sit idle on weekdays. The free-floating business model is that the additional revenue from people driving them into the city on weekdays makes it economical to have more cars, serving more neighborhoods.
And yet no one has been able to make it actually pencil.
Wait, they have bike racks?! Nice.
Off the top of my head, I can envision three use cases for the bike racks:
1) Recreational rides away from town (e.g. mountain biking).
2) Emergency rides home for bike commuters who suffer a mechanical breakdown en-route.
3) Even if the trip purpose has nothing to do with biking, if the nearest available car is a mile or two away, the bike racks allow you to ride your bike to get to the car (provided there’s a place to store the bike at the destination).
That said, my gut feeling is that the bike racks will end up almost never being used, and the company is essentially willing to swallow the cost of them in order to bolster its “green” image. If the racks only cost them a couple hundred dollars per car, I suppose that’s not a huge price to pay.
I’d bet there’s bike rack demand for in-city destinations, too. We have some lovely, very flat biking opportunities, but reaching them can require long and super-unpleasant rides involving multiple lung-busting climbs. To a carless Southender, the ability to throw a bike on a car-share vehicle and spend the afternoon tooling around the Burke or Lake Washington or West Seattle sounds appealing. Of course there needs to be a large enough fleet that you can reasonably expect to find a car for the trip home.
We just got rid of this of this awful modality. Why is it coming back? We have these things called taxis. They have dedicated parking spots and can wait in 30 minute commercial parking as well. Their system is broken, but if it was fixed we’d run Uber and Lyft out of town too.
The answer is simple and has been with us comparatively forever. Why complicate everything when we can just fix one thing and solve all problems?
In pre-Metro days, drove cabs night shift in Detroit, and also in Lansing, Michigan. Checker Marathon was an awesomely indestructible piece of machinery, easy on gas for its size, plenty of leg and head-room, handled great.
When I lived in Seattle, and on occasional visit, really like Orange Cabs and respect their drivers, many from Africa. So can somebody please fill me in on what’s broken about the industry?
Thanks. Mark Dublin
In Seattle, the issue is mainly quantity. In the rest of King County, taxis are a very different beast. In Seatac, they disregard basic rules of the road, parking in bus stops and strips of No Parking, in addition to all sorts of aggressive driving. On the Eastside, timeliness is a huge issue. A taxi that says they’ll arrive in 15 minutes won’t be there in 30.
Seattle would be fine if there were more taxi permits issued to meet demand. Outside Seattle, dispatch quality and driver quality both desperately need improvement. Uber and Lyft only thrive due in almost whole part to these basic issues.
Why is this modality awful?
It is wasteful and unneeded. It takes up space in terms of parking when not in use. It is a redundant service, one better served by alternatives. It does nothing to get cars off the road, instead it just keeps one car on the road more often. At least taxis go to base/private houses at the end of the day.
> It takes up space in terms of parking when not in use.
So do taxi stands
> It is a redundant service, one better served by alternatives.
If I want privacy and to not be subjected to someone else’s lack of deodorant those other services are not better
> It does nothing to get cars off the road, instead it just keeps one car on the road more often.
Debatable. How do you know the utilization rate of a car share vehicle is higher than that of a taxi?
> At least taxis go to base/private houses at the end of the day.
Peak parking demand is not overnight. Gigs can be parked in some private lots too
“So do taxi stands”
Taxis have a much higher use rate than car share. While taxi stands do take up space, they provide parking for more vehicles. A taxi sits there for maybe 15 minutes. Car shares stay there for hours.
“If I want privacy and to not be subjected to someone else’s lack of deodorant those other services are not better.”
Are you calling taxi drivers and Uber/Lyft drivers smelly? Cities provide for needs, not wants.
“How do you know the utilization rate of a car share vehicle is higher than that of a taxi?”
Actually it is lower. I was comparing car shares to SOVs there.
“Peak parking demand is not overnight. Gigs can be parked in some private lots too.”
Parking is parking. Whether the parking is “Peak” or in a private lot is irrelevant.
The right comparison is not with taxi stands, but private cars that sit parked on the street for hours or days on end. Why should a car that’s the exclusive domain of one person have a higher right to the street than a car that’s shared among many people? If the answer is that a company is making money off of the use of car, recall that the company’s use of the street is not free. They pay the city a fee for each car in their fleet (I recall, it was over $1,000 per car per year with Car2Go).
Car share vehicles also spend hours on end parked (although granted rarely days). For private vehicles though, options are somewhat scarce. Suburbanizing Seattle to provide SFH style garages or apartments/condos with on site parking aren’t considered viable solutions. In contrast, there are lots of alternatives to car share systems. Options aren’t scarce in that use case.
The single owner vehicle has no exclusive rights to parking on the side of the street. They’ve been excluded from other parking options. Car share is unneeded. There’s no reason to permit it to use parking on the side of the street.
1,000 dollars per car per year is much less than the hourly rate for a parking spot 24/7/365. Car share isn’t paying it’s fair share at that rate.
Like what? I’m pretty sure the only place I can’t park my car is on someone else’s property, excluding options that are open to the public (like parking garages). And I pay a whopping $0 for the privilege of parking it anywhere I want (aside from usage fees an owner might impose). Car share is excluded from those private lots, and pays about $1000 more than I do for public parking.
Honestly if street utilization is your main complaint you should go after RVs that are parked for days, not shared cars parked for a day at most.
Just because you live in a place in Seattle with free curb side parking doesn’t mean everybody does, or that car share vehicles will be parked in such a neighborhood. The average parking garage rate in Seattle is 7.11 an hour.
That 1,000 dollar number is absurdly low, btw. Hourly parking for a year at the cheapest curbside rate (1 dollar per hour, 10 hours a day, 6 days a week) comes to over 3,000 dollars. At the max rate (4 dollars per hour, 12 hours, 6 days a week) comes out to just over 15,000 dollars. That’s what car share companies should be charged per vehicle IMO.
I’d happily go after uninhabited RVs parked curbside. Going after ones people are currently living in would be blind to the realities of life in present day Seattle.
My neighborhood does not have unrestricted parking. I have a garage
Also, the city doesn’t make that much money on each space. No space has 100% utilization, period.
Also, the cost of the space is set based on the demand of the neighborhood, not to bilk is much money as possible out of the citizens, a point you seem to be forgetting. The city purposely sets rates as high as possible in order to ensure at least one or two spaces open per block. If money was really the issue, they’d lower the rates a tad so price sensitive drivers would be more likely to use them.
I am not forgetting any point. I hold corporations to a higher rate and standard. I find nothing wrong with charging a big car share business for 24/7 parking at the highest rate. That’s literally the price of business.
It’s not like the entire fleet is parked in Pioneer Square 24/7. The vehicles are scattered throughout the city and, at any given time, most of them are in areas where street parking is free. Even downtown, street parking isn’t even paid 24/7 (although, perhaps it should be). It’s still free on evenings and Sundays.
A reasonable fee is the cost of metered parking used by the vehicles at the locations and hours that the vehicles are actually parked there. This is something that can be calculated using GPS data on the cars. A fee based on a hypothetical assumption of every car being parked in Pioneer Square 24/7 is unreasonable.
That said, I can see an argument for moving to an offstreet-only parking solution in a few specific areas (e.g. downtown). Car2Go in Vancouver, in fact, did this. But, for most of the city, street parking is plentiful enough to make such restrictions unnecessary and unreasonable, and would make usage far less convenient, by forcing users to walk several blocks at the end of their trip.
“I find nothing wrong with charging a big car share business for 24/7 parking at the highest rate”
At the city’s $1200 rate per permit it will take the company 25 days to break even per car at a usage rate of 2 hours a day (there are price caps that favor the consumer so longer rentals would increase that payback time). If the permit fee is increased to 5k that jumps to 104 days. Since that means the car has to drive more to break even that also means the amount of gas they buy also has to increase four fold. That means they’d need to increase their rates to $1.66 per minute, a number few would pay which leads to your nightmare scenario of unoccupied cars.
Please send us a postcard before you leave fantasy camp
“Even downtown, street parking isn’t even paid 24/7 (although, perhaps it should be). It’s still free on evenings and Sundays.”
I accounted for that in my figures. 6 days a week, and 10-12 hours a day depending on minimum vs. maximum fee.
“That means they’d need to increase their rates to $1.66 per minute, a number few would pay which leads to your nightmare scenario of unoccupied cars.”
Precisely. At fair market value, car shares do not pencil out. It is only by charging big business 1200 per car per year as opposed to 3,000 (and I maintain 15,000 is fair to charge big business) that this modality survives. Essentially the city is subsidizing car shares. That’s insane, and another reason why car shares need to go the way of the dodo.
What about companies with delivery or service fleets? Some pay $250 a year for a load zone permit, some don’t, and all get 24/7 free parking. Talk about subsidy
They should definitely be charged more. They should also be ticketed and towed more for their common and frequent illegal parking. Delivery and service drivers/businesses get no love from me at all.
I think your hatred for car share companies is misguided. Rather it’s about our city’s unwillingness to accurately price curb space, something we can both agree on.
In any case, hi d.p. 👋
I disagree. I find the fault to lie in Seattle’s willingness to let business run roughshod over the public good.
And I’m not d.p. The only other handle I’ve used in local online forums is libertine (with the exception of two or so other handles here until I settled on the one that worked). I’ve run into d.p. in other online forums, but I am my own person.
“A taxi sits there for maybe 15 minutes. Car shares stay there for hours.”
It depends on where the car is. A car at a supermarket will be gone in 15 minutes, and a car on Capitol Hill would also. It’s only in low-density areas where all the neighbors have cars that it would stick around all evening. You can’t prevent that without banning the cars from those neighborhoods, and that would make the system too complicated and less useful. I can’t believe most cars end up stuck in those neighborhoods, so it may be a 50% situation. Even if only 50% of the cars are well-used it’s a worthwhile service. Especially if it whittles down the number of owed cars. There are people who want to take transit and bike part time and have access to a car for occasional large/difficult trips, and that option should be available.
One interesting thing when comparing taxis with other alternatives, which I recently read in Bloomberg, “Even a Mobility Revolution Can’t Crack American Car Culture”, Feb 27 2020:
> In a study published in December, the California Air Resources Board found that because of deadheading, ride-hailing companies created about one and a half times the carbon emissions per passenger mile that private car travel did.
I haven’t checked the study myself, but if that’s true, free floating car shares have an environmental advantage over uber/lyft, since they don’t drive around waiting for customers.
Personally, I find free floating car shares frequently useful in Seattle, and they have been a major contributing factor to me not buying a car. They’re good for one-way hops where there’s inadequate bus coverage, their pricing can be cheaper than uber/lyft depending on the circumstance, and you can fit a larger group of people (because one person drives).
For those complaining about parking, what part of Seattle are you trying to park in? I tend to go between capitol hill, ballard, ID, and wallingford, and basically never have trouble finding parking in any of those areas, with the notable exception of Friday night in capitol hill, which I would try to avoid anyway. (I do think the Mercedes SUVs were terrible city cars and a generally confusing choice by car2go.)
Of course passenger vehicles will never be a substitute for actual mass transit, but I think it’s fair to say there are some advantages to this over other options and I’ll be happy to have it back.
I am excited to see a car share coming back. It served a perfect option for me and maintaining a single car household. I know this is all anecdotal, but I’ve brought this up with a few groups of people since finding out yesterday and everyone is excited to have the option back and ready to sign up. Most are in the architecture / engineering community, so maybe there is just something with the demographic and profession.
I should clarify, free floating car share.
Thanks, A Joy. Now, question. Curious: how much of Seattle’s scarcity is due to deliberate efforts to reduce number of cabs to raise prices?
And for the suburbs, which does the most damage to cab service, lack of active regulation or inability to earn enough money to provide decent service.
Age thing, travel thing, and memory thing, but do remember a time when enterprises including cabs featured fair number of driver-owned cooperatives. Not totally kidding when I say it might be good if Sound Transit became one.
Maybe from experience with Orange Cab, but think most likely pioneer will be from someplace overseas.
The scarcity in Seattle is absolutely deliberate. Taxi companies want a high demand market, so they actively fight against new permits.
For the suburbs the issue is a lack of accountability. If you think Seattle doesn’t have enough officers per capita, you should see how few cops the burbs have. Seatac doesn’t have enough officers on staff to ticket airport shoulder parkers, and that is literally a single stretch of road. On the East side there is effectively only one taxi service, so you have no alternatives other than Uber and Lyft. I’ve had Eastside taxi drivers literally stop at a friend’s house and have a chat. Since the meter wasn’t running (also common on the East side), he didn’t care.
If taxicabs are in any way better than the likes of Uber, and with very little if any ride-share experience I’d need that explained, I can see one way the mode can be revived: Retro.
Do I need to describe the outfit that’s going to center its operations around Brooklyn Station (or whatever it ends up being called)? Same owners’ family can have at least one old-world deli a reasonable fare’s ride away.
To some people, aroma (not smoke!) of a quality cigar beats out the average perfume. On being hired, drivers can attend a cultural history course to learn what average cab driver’s most usual complaint was about in 1953. And same for the “tone” of Somalia, India, and, of course… England!
One thing I clearly remember from the years following the Second World War: Every city had at least one Veterans’ Cab Company. Might check with the Veterans’ Administration to see if that aspect of the industry might be worth another attempt.
I know I’ve said this before, but one big factor that helps Uber out-compete on price with free-floating carshare is taxes. A 10-minute car rental is still technically a car rental, and is subject to a 10% sales tax, plus an additional ~7% rental car tax. Uber and Lyft, by contrast, are charged only a flat tax per ride, usually less than $1.
Regular sales tax, ok. But additional taxes on top of it feels excessive. Especially when the pre-tax price includes stuff like gas and insurance, which isn’t even subject to sales tax at all, when sold separately. Traditionally, the taxes were structure with the assumption that everyone owns their own car, so everyone who rents a car is an out-of-town traveler, and it’s ok to make them pay more, since they don’t get to vote in local elections. Such taxes have traditionally be used to fund frills such as sports stadiums. Now, things have changed, and putting the burden of funding sports stadiums on people who rent cars, rather than own them, makes no sense.
That half percent tax expired in 2011. The latest funds come from the hotel/motel tax.
And just to finish up: is it against the law for public transit companies to have a taxicab division? And any thoughts about reviving jitney service- basically a line-haul bus line whose vehicles are taxis?
I remember a photo from Detroit in the 1920’s, with a Model T vintage cab stopped on same track as the streetcar transferring passengers to it. Wonder if same thing could be worked out with Uber.
“Small Toyota Prius C cars seem like a much more sensible choice for car sharing than full-size German sedans and SUVs.”
Between Car2go and ReachNow, they tried SMARTcars and Minis (none of which are cheap but I expect they got ’em cheaper than we would). Size isn’t the issue. Maybe one day our 21st C city will support electrics. They might not even need a charge for a day of urban driving and could be moved to and from charging stations as needed.
Implementing carsharing with electric cars is pretty straightforward with Zipcar-style parking – just install a charging station at each EV’s designated parking spot, ask users to plug in when they return the car, and fine them when they don’t. Problem solved.
With a free-floating system, keeping the vehicles charged requires a lot of labor, and that labor gets very expensive. You’ve got to pay people to drive the cars to the nearest charger, sit with them while they charge, drive them back to somewhere where they’re likely to get used, then pay other people to drive the drivers around. All of these drivers have to be paid the city’s $15/hour minimum, and the insurance/wear/tear on the cars to drive the drivers around has to be accounted for too. With all the labor involved, the electricity to charge an EV ends up being far more expensive than just paying for gas out of gas pump. At least with the latter, the company can use coupons to encourage users to fill up themselves, making the labor free.
Of course, the company could also try to avoid charging labor by offering discounts for users to return their car at a charging station. But, you’ve still got the problem that, without paid labor to move the car around, the vehicle could end up hogging the charging station for hours after it’s finished charging.
In a way, the economics of free-floating EV’s relates to how the shared e-bikes have gotten so expensive. Electricity is cheap, but the labor in moving vehicles around to and from where they can be charged is very expensive. Just like gas engines avoid this problem with cars, pedal-power avoids this problem with bikes.
Gig seems to have figured this out; about half of their Sacromento fleet is electric.
Also eBikes are completely different. The batteries are small enough that you can fit two or three in a backpack; the company need only invest in a number of spare batteries and swap them out without ever having to move the bike. Which is in fact what Lime did and Jump still does.
Even of they don’t need to move the bike, they still need to shuttle humans around to wherever the bike is. The labor problem isn’t as bad as with cars, but it’s still bad. For instance, if the battery has to be swapped after every 100 minutes of use, and each swap costs $5 worth of labor and vehicle operation, that amounts to $0.05/min. in charging costs, or about 1/6th of the total fare. It’s not trivial.
and (3) finding a parking spot at your destination is annoying.
Is this really the community consensus? My sense from riding in cars with Seattleites for more than a decade is that they still have this small-town, low-density mentality insisting there is a parking crisis if they can’t park on the same block as their destination. We were what I would consider fairly heavy car-share users, and almost never had a problem parking in Ballard, Capitol Hill, etc. If you want to spend a Saturday night on Market or Old Ballard Ave. you can always find open spots on the side streets north of Market or down on Shilshole or Leary without hunting around. Might you be a five or ten minute walk from your restaurant? Sure, but that’s just city life — you’re driving to a neighborhood, not a doorstep.
If you live outside an urban village, parking is abundant and easy so why bother?
Off the top of my head…
1. Because you don’t own a car
2. Because it is often faster and cheaper than Lyft/Uber
3. Because you just need a hillclimb assist
4. Because you’re going out and don’t want to drive home
5. Because you’re using car share for trips that don’t involve home
6. Because you’re trip-chaining
7. Because you’re out and about and too far to walk to your destination, but the transit trip is especially inefficient (long walks on both ends bookending a fairly short bus or train ride)
8. Because you are keeping VMT down by spending most of the day on foot and transit, but do need to stop by CostCo or Lowes on the way home
9. Because the car is right there and not a three- to eight-minute Uber/Lyft wait, a wait that has a fairly decent chance of being significantly longer as you stand in the rain watching your driver make wrong turn after wrong turn; because you know you’re a good and safe driver who knows the city; and because you value autonomy and the freedom to have private conversations and change plans or make an unexpected stop.
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