The C Is for Crank

The Good News, and Bad, About Car2Go

Car2Go debuts in (some of) Seattle.

By Erica C. Barnett February 4, 2013


The C Is for Crank

A couple of weeks ago, I had a chance to check out Car2Go, the new car-sharing service, for the first time. I had just met with Car2Go's Austin-based pitchwoman, Katie Stafford, a couple of days earlier, and I needed to get to a press conference in Southeast Seattle, stat. (It was Mayor Mike McGinn's reelection announcment and, oddly, the pro-transit mayor held his announcement along a stretch of MLK inaccessible by light rail).

First, some background on Car2Go: The company, based in Austin, TX, is in aggressive expansion mode, and its cleverly branded Smart for 2 cars can now be found in more than a dozen cities in North America and Europe; Seattle's city council approved a fleet of 330 Car2Go cars last year.

(The "customized" profiles of each city, I must point out, are a little rote: Both Seattle and Portland are described, for example, as "a city rife with innovation," whatever that means.) 

Unlike its biggest competitor, Avis-owned carsharing behemoth Zipcar, Car2Go allows users take one-way trips: You get into a car, drive to your destination, and leave the car in any parking space. (Zipcar requires drivers to return cars to the spot where they picked them up.) Also unlike Zipcar, which charges in 15-minute intervals, and for a minimum of half an hour, Car2Go charges by the minute—38 cents a minute, up to a maximum of $13.99 an hour. And all the cars have on-board GPS—a useful feature that, unfortunately, hadn't been updated to include Seattle when I tried it. And it's clear that at least some of Car2Go's 6,000 or so Seattle members would like to drive further south.

That's the good news. The bad news is that Car2Go doesn't seem to have done its market research. Because while North End neighborhoods like Bitter Lake and Broadview are included in the company's "home area," the entire southern part of the city, including all of West Seattle and Southeast Seattle, is not. (When you drive outside the company's service area, a stern male voice in the dashboard is quick to let you know.)

Even more bizarrely, the coverage area stops well north of the Mt. Baker light rail station and the Mount Baker transit center, meaning that even if you wanted to integrate Car2Go with transit, you couldn't, without a long walk or an extra transfer. 

And it's clear that at least some of Car2Go's 6,000 or so Seattle members would like to drive further than SE McClellan St., the southern border of the company's service area. (Since the service doesn't extend anywhere near West Seattle, it's hard to say what the demand there might be.) A look at the the company's booking web site shows a solid line of cars along the southern border of the service area, showing that people are driving to the southern border and stopping when they can't go any further:  

Will Car2Go expand its boundaries to include Southeast Seattle, an area where there's obviously tons of demand? Sure, Stafford told me, if customers demand it. 

"Basically, the way it works is that in every city, we identify through market research where people are living, working and going to school the most," Stafford said. "If it’s a new and developing, area maybe that doesn’t show up" right away.

Not to do a gotcha on Stafford or Car2Go—the company is, again, based in Austin, not Seattle—but I wouldn't exactly call West Seattle, or Columbia City, or Mount Baker for that matter—a "new and developing" area. 

For now, though, all I can do is cross my fingers for the day when Car2Go comes to its senses and expands to serve the other half of Seattle.  

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