City Hall

Report: Car2Go a (Slightly Qualified) Success

A new report from the city's transportation department is mostly good news for the carsharing service Car2Go.

By Erica C. Barnett April 9, 2014

The Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) has released its long-promised March 2014 report on Car2Go, the "free-floating carsharing service" that gives users access to 500 aqua-and-white-colored Smartcars throughout the central city. 

Car2Go is a share-economy-era solution for people who want to drive their own cars less, or who don't have cars of their own but sometimes need to get around town quickly, to access a car for one-way trips.

Here's how it works: Members reserve cars via smartphone or by tapping their membership card on a reader on the car's windshield, drive where they want to go, then park and sign out. The system eliminates what may be the most frustrating aspect of traditional carsharing services like Zipcar: The fact that members have to return them to the same parking spot where they picked them up. As long as you're in Car2Go's service area, you can park anywhere any other car could park, without paying separately (parking fees are included in the cost of membership). 

According to SDOT's report, carsharing really is exactly what it's advertised to be: Cars that many users share, taking personal autos off the road. SDOT found that each car was used by five drivers (out of 35,000 subscribers, or about one out of every 20 Seattleites) on an average day, and that 39 percent of Car2Go members have given up a car or are considering doing so, and that 39 percent of users are driving their personal cars less frequently since joining the service. Twenty-six percent of Car2Go members do not own a private vehicle. SDOT found that each car was used by five drivers on an average day, and that 39 percent of Car2Go members have given up a car or are considering doing so.

On the flip side, though, 63 percent of users said their Car2Go membership made no difference in how much they use their personal car, and 47 percent said they were using transit less since joining. 

"While some of the data provided by car2go indicate positive effects from free-floating car share, such as fewer miles traveled in private vehicles and lower car ownership rates, the decline in public transit ridership among members is a less desirable trend and should be better understood," the report says. "At this point it is unclear how free-floating car share is affecting broader transportation choices throughout the city," the report says. 

Car2Go has asked the city to expand the number of carsharing permits, which could enable it to extend its service area to extend more of West Seattle and Southeast Seattle. (Currently, you can drive a Car2Go anywhere but you have to park it inside Car2Go's service area.)

As we reported, last year Car2Go, which is owned by Daimler, paid Seattle $183,000 to "true up" its parking costs to match how much parking drivers actually used. (Despite the widespread belief that Car2Go users park "for free," they actually pay for parking as part of the company's per-minute fees.) Last year, Car2Go's parking costs were around $848,000. 


Overall, Car2Go users took up well under 1 percent of the available parking time inside the city's restricted parking zones—again, belying the claim that Car2Go users are unfairly clogging up available parking spaces. 


In a finding that probably won't shock anyone who works downtown, Car2Go cars are "largely concentrated in the downtown core during business days and remain in the surrounding neighborhoods during the evening," indicating that downtown workers are using them to commute. The neighborhoods with the highest number of rentals are downtown, Capitol Hill, Belltown, South Lake Union, and Lower Queen Anne. 

We have a call out to city council transportation committee chair Tom Rasmussen to find out whether he'll support expanding the number of Car2Go permits. 


Filed under
Show Comments