This post was produced as part of the UW Comm Department’s undergraduate Entrepreneurial Journalism course.
By Anna Chatilo
My stomach grumbled as I walked out the door and pulled up the car2go map on my phone. Few things override an intense craving for sushi, and I was surprised (and relieved) to find five cars to choose from within five blocks of my apartment. It was easy to find the little white and blue Smart car four streets up, and I was on my way in no time.
Car2go expanded to Seattle in December, and serves 17 cities worldwide. Users can rent cars by the minute for 38 cents, for as long as needed, and may drop them off within the designated city limits. For Seattle, this means between Beacon Hill and Bitter Lake. For now, new customers will receive 30 minutes of free driving when entering the promotion code SOUND when registering, saving them 11 dollars.
Jennifer Duffy found out about car2go in January and has used it about 10 times. She often takes one home from work when convenient, and likes the parking perk.
“You can park them anywhere, which is the cool part,” she said. “And they all have zoning permits, so you can park them where there’s there are zoning [restrictions] or meters. So I’ll walk out of work and it’ll just be right outside work, and I could wait 20 minutes for a bus or I could just take a car2go home.”
The car has a GPS and will inform the driver when they have gone outside the designated limits. One advantage of car2go over competing Zipcar is that users may park in metered areas instead of designated lots where they picked cars up.
Duffy said that the price is always cheaper than a taxi, and her bill for January will only be $11.
“Most of the time when I take it home it’s less than five dollars. It’s awesome. That’s because there’s no base rate and taxis have a base rate. With car2go it’s literally just how many minutes you’re in the car,” she said.
My trip to the restaurant cost about four dollars, and indeed was easy to park outside the restaurant. But having never been in a Smart car, I felt a little uneasy driving it at first. The makers assure its stability, but I won’t be taking it on the freeway anytime soon.
Duffy feels the same way, feeling unsafe with all the SUVs and buses on the freeway.
Richard Schurman is a Zipcar member, and though he likes the car2go business model, the car design is the only con that would keep him from signing up. Zipcar gives customers the possibility of choosing from different car makes and models.
“I like nice, fast cars,” Schurman said. “I think to someone who is comfortable driving a little Prius, or a Golf, I don’t think it’s too much different. I’ve never driven one so I couldn’t personally say how it feels, but I’m not necessarily fond of a Smart Car.”
While the cars do not have to be reserved in advance (though you can), there are disadvantages. West Seattle is not covered in the designated area, and it seems by the amount of cars that are left of the South end of the accessible border, customers would like the area to expand farther than it currently is.
Another hindrance is more the risk of leaving the car. Say a user would like to go to the grocery store for a half hour, but not pay for the car while shopping. It’s completely reasonable to do so, but they run the risk of another member taking the car off the street.
I held by breath as I walked out of the sushi restaurant, knowing the walk home would be brutal with a belly stuffed with rice and sashimi. But I turned the corner and came face-to-face with the Smart car that would take me all the way back to my front door.