Yet again, Washington, DC emerges as one of the most popular kids in the smart growth innovation sandbox. With the introduction of Car2Go, a subsidiary of Daimler AG that provides car-sharing services in several cities in Europe and North America, car-less residents in the DC area can now enjoy greater heights of urban mobility.
The new car-sharing system celebrated its 200-car launch in the district last week (one of only 3 other cities in the country), advertising one-way trips within the city at prices beginning as low as 38 cents per minute including tax, after a one time membership fee of $35—trumping the system’s most compelling competitor, ZipCar, which has thus far presented itself as the undefeated champion of car-share in the area. While ZipCar may have bigger vehicles with more passenger space, unlike the smart car configuration of Car2Go’s vehicle, Car2Go boasts a sizable luggage compartment, comfortable interior and Earth-friendly compactness, according to their website.
The city continues to out-do its urban counterparts in energy consciousness and promotion of more livable communities. With car-sharing becoming more frequent and reliable as a mode of transportation, the idea of a future consisting of fewer emissions, fewer dollars on fuel and an emphasis on a transit-oriented lifestyle and community is tangible.
However, do Car2Go’s facts on paper match up to customer expectations and review? Given its nascent beginnings as a reliable alternative transportation resource in DC, testimonial evidence is sparse. However, people of the Twitter community speak favorably of Car2Go’s flexibility and mobility concept, one user stating, “You rocked my world today! So nice to find a car in my neighborhood, run errands, and park just a block away! So easy!”
But in a city like DC, with competitive and pricey parking in most every urban shopping area, business district and residential location, a car-sharing system that isn’t based in specific stations must have an ingenious answer to car parking. Car2Go establishes that riders can park at any non-restricted metered, curbside parking space without paying meter or paystation fees, or in residential locations in any zone in Car2Go’s Home Area without time restrictions. Unlike ZipCar, which intends every car to have a designated parking spot, Car2Go’s model doesn’t have designated spaces. Instead, cars are parked at various spots on the street and in garages. Need to get around town? Simply find a nearby-parked car on the web, smartphone app, or call into a call center, unlock it with a member code and drive off. When you’re done, park it anywhere on the street, even a different neighbor than where you had originally found it. Point-to-point car-share is now a fact of life.
Additionally, Car2Go is working in tandem with DPW and DDOT to allow cars to park in residential permit parking (RPP) zones across the city, and in garages in downtown areas. As far as parking goes, there is a lot of give. However, according to an article from TBDOnFoot’s John Hendel, the virtue of fewer parking restrictions may only be valid in theory. City officials are ticketing Car2Go cars, whether warranted or not. Hendel states that this is due to drivers not being mindful or completely cognizant of parking rules, and officials not being aware of parking changes. The hope is that these growing pains will eliminate confusion in the future as to where Car2Go drivers can park, and when officials should lay off the ticketing. There is a time and place for ticketing in point-to-point carshare.
New user and DC resident Jacob Shmukler states, “parking may be the biggest impediment here, especially closer to the center of the city where non-time limited spots are scarce. However, I’ve found that there are so many ‘half spots’ throughout the city that only Smart Cars can fit, that this may actually be less of an issue than one would suspect.” What does this mean for the future of DC’s urban life? The infrastructures are all in place – a population known for its transient car-less residents finds alternatives to WMATA’s bus and rail system, can park virtually wherever they like and pay close to nothing for it. Will car-sharing be the new bike-sharing in DC’s transportation landscape? If Car2Go continues to prosper and gain more members, it is likely that the idea of point-to-point accessibility will increase demand and further drive transit-oriented strategies towards New Urbanism–design for people, not cars. Freedom of movement now has a new meaning.
On the capabilities of DC to foster car-share, Shmukler states, “I think if there are any cities where [car sharing] could work, DC is at the top of that list. The city combines several features that are essential to incentivizing people to join, not the least of which is a taxi system that is both antiquated and impractically expensive. So long as it costs $12-15 for two people to get 2 miles down the road in a cab, it will always be more practical to rent a car2go for 10 minutes and get there for less than 5 bucks.”
In order to survive, Car2Go must continue to challenge the status quo of rampant car-ownership and automobile dependency, and development a unique sense of community and space. This author believes that Car2Go complements efficient and comprehensive transit services at a deal. Smart cars are the new Smart Growth—in sum, a smart idea.
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