A carload of new carsharing options has arrived or will soon arrive in Minneapolis. Homegrown HourCar is expanding to around
50 80 cars in on-street and parking lot locations, and ZipCar, having lived only at the University for years is expanding across the City. Companies that you would usually associate with long-term car rentals are getting in the game – both Enterprise and Hertz have car sharing plans for Minneapolis. According to MPR, by 2014 there will be over 400 vehicles available to car-sharing customers.
The bulk of these will be in the fleet of Car2Go, which operates on a different business model than the rest, offerring “point to point” service. Walk to a car anywhere in Minneapolis, drive where you want to go, then park it at any curb space in Minneapolis (expect rush hour zones). Other companies require that you return their cars to a specified location at a specified time. The trade-off is that their rates are generally cheaper.
I decided to become a member a few weeks back, so I thought I’d give some first impressions.
It is convenient. I’ve only taken three trips, two originating downtown and one originating in south Minneapolis, but cars have always been readily available. I consulted my smart phone for the nearest car via an app, walked a few blocks (or feet in the case of one trip), and was on my way. All the cars I’ve used were brand new and clean.
It might be more expensive. Competitors like HourCar charge quite a bit less per hour, but also charge a monthly membership fee. One four mile trip I took with Car2Go that took 16 minutes cost $7 with tax (including 4 minutes of unexplained parking time). If you use it sparingly, it may be close. You’ll probably end up paying more because they’re everywhere and you find yourself lured by the convenience.
The cars are small, but that’s ok. A 6’3″ individual like me fits comfortably, but don’t expect to haul anything more than groceries and a passenger. But, that’s kind of not the point of this service. These are cars as appliances – maximum efficiency and simplicity. The controls are all dead-simple and limited (although there is standard navigation), the transmission leaves much to be desired, but the turning radius is to die for. People also might start to get creative with parking when they realize how short these cars are.
It’s a preview of autonomous vehicles. Use your smart phone to summon/reserve it. Leave it anywhere. Share it with the masses. Rent the appropriate vehicle for the appropriate journey or load. To me, this service gives a picture of what fully autonomous vehicles will be like once they are integrated.
I think the point-to-point model will mean many more car sharing miles traveled in Minneapolis. As a one-car household, my family is celebrating this new option. I now have subscriptions to two different car sharing services, and already get the sense I’ll be driving more total miles than before.
Now if only they’d expand the parking area to St. Paul.