Tag Archives: AutoShare

Car2Go: great idea, but some major problems to work out

As I’ve written here before, I am a member of Zipcar, AutoShare, and Car2Go. Lately, I’ve found myself using Car2Go the most because of the nature of my travels. I work from home two or three days a week, but the rest of the time head downtown to the office. I’ve found that taking a Car2Go to work after rush hour, then taking it back home, has been a great way to commute now that the weather is getting colder (I usually bike in the spring, summer and early fall). It works out to less than half the price of taking a cab.

Now, the beauty of Car2Go is the one way nature of the trips — I pick up a car at one lot and can drop it off at another. It makes the drives short (average trip is 15 minutes) and I don’t have to pay for parking when I’m downtown. But there are some major problems with the service:

1) Parking isn’t always guaranteed. A number of lots downtown are often full, meaning you can’t drop off the car at your desired location. Car2Go users are supposed to keep driving around looking for a lot that isn’t full, but that’s not practical and doing so comes at a cost, as you’re charged for every minute you drive. Many people, including myself, resort to double parking — because the Smart Cars are so short, you can usually park one behind the other and it doesn’t affect the flow of the lot. Unfortunately, city officials don’t like this and will ticket the car. Car2Go passes that $30 ticket on to you, and adds a $25 processing fee on top. Not nice.

2) The wireless entry system for the cars is unreliable. Three times now I have had a car unable to connect with the main system. The first time I couldn’t properly return a car because it wouldn’t connect to tell the system that my ride was over. I had to call customer service and spent 20 minutes trying to figure it out. In the end, I had to leave the car unlocked in the lot and just walk away hoping someone didn’t steal it. Other times, I have walked to lots and tried to sign out a car, only to find out it won’t connect. Just today, this happened to me. I walked 20 minutes to the nearest available car, swiped my card, only to find out there was “No Connection.” I called customer service and they couldn’t figure it out. I was told, “Yeah, this sometimes happens.” Great. I ended up having to spend $30 to take a cab (a premium compared to the $9 the Car2Go would have cost me) and was 15 minutes late for an important meeting. Did I mention it was friggin’ cold outside? I was told I might get a credit for the inconvenience — the request would be made. Might?

3) Another issue has to do with picking up a car in a large, multi-level Green P city parking lot. Based on the iPhone app, you know there’s a car there somewhere, but you don’t know exactly where it is. You end up having to walk through each level looking for this little car. One lot on the Esplanade in Toronto has five or six levels. Took me 15 minutes of walking around to figure out where it was. In these situations, the company should really look to have dedicated spots, like Zipcar or AutoShare have.

4) This isn’t the biggest issue, but it’s still a problem. The iPhone apps that help you find available cars don’t do a good enough job of telling you where some lots are. Zipcar and AutoShare, by comparison, go into a great amount of detail to tell you exactly how to get to the car.

So there you go. I love the concept of Car2Go, but so far I’m getting really frustrated by the experience. The company better sort them out, otherwise I’m going to ditch this service and go for something more reliable.

Car-sharing in Toronto more ubiquitous than Tim Horton’s, Starbucks, Second Cup and Timothy’s combined!

My latest Clean Break column:

Two years ago I made a decision to ditch my car and start navigating the growing universe of transportation offerings available in the city.

One of my first decisions was to join the car-share service Zipcar, which has about 470 cars in its fleet spread across roughly 200 locations. Zipcar, along with public transit, cycling, the occasional cab ride, and a bit of day-before planning, has made it quite simple to move around the city without worrying about the hassle of car ownership: insurance, repairs, fuel costs, and parking.

There are currently three major car-share options in Toronto. In addition to Zipcar, there is Toronto-founded AutoShare, which has about 300 cars across 150 locations, and the Daimler-owned Car2Go, which launched this summer with 250 Smart Fortwo cars scattered across 200 city-owned Green P parking lots.

In all, Torontonians now have access to more than 1,000 vehicles at 550 different city spots, making car-sharing more ubiquitous in this city than all Tim Horton’s, Starbucks, Second Cup and Timothy’s coffee shop locations combined.

It’s tempting to view the three as competing services; to labour over choosing one over the other the same way you might weigh the pros and cons of different cellphone service. The companies surely view themselves as competitors.

But for the consumer it’s not necessarily a choice of this “or” that. I decided this month to also join AutoShare and Car2Go because for an extra $45 a year, beyond what I would pay per hour or minute to sign out a car, doing so has dramatically expanded my travel options. (Pay-per-use fees range from about $10 to $12 an hour).

AutoShare and Zipcar may be quite similar, but having extra locations and cars to choose from is comforting. Just being with Zipcar, for example, I occasionally found it difficult to book a car nearby at the time it was needed. AutoShare now serves as a backup for Zipcar, and vice versa.

The vehicles in each company’s fleets are also different, offering the chance to try out different types of cars, such as the hybrid-electrics (Chevy Volts and Toyota Priuses) and all-electric vehicles (Nissan Leafs and Mitsubishi i-MiEVs) in AutoShare’s growing fleet.

Car2Go is quite different from both AutoShare and Zipcar in that you don’t have to return the vehicle to its original location. Instead, you can take one-way trips and only pay by the minute, not the hour.

The catch is you can only reserve a car up to 24 hours in advance, or just take your chances. If there’s one parked in a city Green P lot, you just swipe your member card against a device attached to the car’s windshield and you’re off.

This came in handy last week when, having rode my bicycle to work, I didn’t feel well enough at the end of the day to cycle home. I found a Green P lot a block from the office, grabbed a Smart car, and drove it to a lot near my home in the Beaches. A ride in a cab would have been twice as expensive.

Kevin McLaughlin, founder and president of AutoShare, prefers to think of Car2Go as a “self-driving taxi” service and not true car-sharing. “By far their (Car2Go’s) biggest impact, at least at the beginning, will be on taxis, Bixi (bike sharing), walking and even transit.”

Even with three services now operating in Toronto, the market continues to grow “very well,” says McLaughlin. “We are having our biggest growth this year by far.”

Christian Demers, general manager of Zipcar’s Toronto office, says he doesn’t expect that growth to slow down. “If you look at the development going on downtown it simply can’t slow down,” he says. “It will drive more people to join car-share programs because parking spots are less and less available.”

Innovation will also continue to grow the pie. The Zipcar, AutoShare and Cars2Go business models aren’t economical in areas with low population densities, such as the suburbs. This has created opportunity for peer-to-peer car sharing – services that allow car owners to rent out their own vehicles hourly, right out of their own driveways, when they’re not using them.

Earlier this month, General Motors’ announced that any GM vehicle equipped with the OnStar service could be rented out by the owner through a partnership with the peer-to-peer car-share service RelayRides, which started out in Boston and San Francisco and has since expanded its offering throughout the United States. It’s only a matter of time before it comes to Canada.

Ontario law currently disallows peer-to-peer car sharing, so legislative changes would be required, but both established players such as Zipcar and AutoShare and new players are kicking the tires and keen to experiment.

“People are still trying to figure it out,” says Demers, adding that wireless connectivity, GPS, the Web and the management of all three through increasingly advanced software has brought concepts like vehicle sharing to a new level.

“The technology in all these vehicles, like OnStar, changes the landscape of what you can do versus where we were 10 years ago,” he says.

The big caveat is that there will continue to be a big percentage of the population that, because of where they live or the nature of their work, simply can’t benefit from car-sharing.

It’s not for all people—but it is for a lot of people, such as the growing number of folks who work from home or have flexibility with their job. For this reason, car-sharing isn’t just here to stay, it will – has? – become an increasingly visible reality of city life, and a welcome one.

Tyler Hamilton, author of Mad Like Tesla, writes weekly about green energy and clean technologies.

You gotta boat, I need a boat, let’s save lots of money: P2P vehicle sharing expands from cars to boats. What’s next?

Okay, did anyone get that Pet Shop Boys reference in the headline? I kinda like it.

My Clean Break column today begins with a look at a new Web-based beta service launched by a Texas company called Nautical Monkey, and how the trend in peer-to-peer vehicle sharing is poised to expand into many new areas beyond the road. Nautical Monkey was designed to match up people who own boats with people who want to use boats but don’t want the hassle of owning one. The service let’s boat owners make some money on the side for the majority of the year when the boat sits idle, while also providing a way for folks like me — who could never justify buying a decent-sized boat and wouldn’t want the headache of owning one — to partake in the nautical experience without breaking the bank or my marriage. As I say in the column, it’s Craigslist meets Facebook meets Zipcar, with a twist on the traditional time-share model used today by vacationers. Nautical Monkey charges $10 a month for the service, and with that you get all the tools you need to connect with someone and manage the relationship.

It’s very interesting how technology is truly beginning to enable this whole peer-to-peer culture of asset sharing. We have services today like Zipcar (or, for my local homeys in Toronto, AutoShare), which is to car use what Napster was to digital music — a centrally managed system shared by many (though unlike Napster, Zipcar actually owns the asset it’s sharing). Now, we’re starting to see true peer-to-peer vehicle sharing services, where anybody with a car in their driveway can “rent” out their vehicles to neighbours and local strangers. Services like this — Getaround, RelayRides, Spride and Buzzcar among them — are more like all those music-sharing sites that use the BitTorrent platform. It’s not a direct analogy, but close enough. P2P vehicle sharing gets around the requirement for some centrally managed and owned fleet, which can become costly and can’t be done economically when expanding into less dense (i.e. suburban) areas. Now, there are major hurdles to overcome, such as murky insurance laws and logistical challenges, but I’m sure these will be dealt with over time and that first-generation car share providers will help legitimize the approach. For example, Montreal’s Communauto is the first in Canada that appears to be taking this on with the coming launch of a P2P vehicle sharing pilot project.

Now, Nautical Monkey comes along and brings the P2P sharing model to boats. The company has already indicated it’s interested in expanding the model to recreational vehicles, planes, and a host of other “assets” that I’m sure many people would feel comfortable sharing. As more people do, it lowers consumption and the energy required to feed higher consumption, and it creates positive behaviour. Car-share members, for example, tend to walk more, bicycle more, and take more public transit. Let’s face it folks, there’s no reason we all have to own this “stuff.”

Where will the P2P-sharing journey take us? Kayaks, lawn mowers, camping equipment, pressure washers, etc…  the opportunities are endless, and it may pose a significant threat in the not-so-distant future to traditional physical rent-all outlets.

Toronto’s AutoShare adds six plug-in vehicles to its local car-sharing fleet

It’s good to see the first car-share program in Toronto begin to embrace plug-in vehicles. CarShare, which has about 10,000 members, is part of the Toronto Atmospheric Fund’s EV300 Initiative and announced yesterday that it will be introducing a half dozen plug-in vehicles — full electric, extended range and plug-in hybrid — to its citywide fleet. The first location is downtown at Mountain Equipment Co-Op’s King St. and Spadina Ave. store. This location makes sense, given the progressive and eco-aware nature of MEC’s customers. Members of AutoShare will get a chance to reserve the Mitsubishi i-Miev that will be based at the charging spot, giving Torontonians an easy way to test drive plug-in vehicles and get a feel for their performance. I’ve always thought that car-share programs and even car rental agencies are the best avenue through which electric vehicles can be introduced to the broader public, who may be curious about these vehicles but really have no other way to get a feel for the technology. As AutoShare president Kevin McLaughlin said, “This is the first step in letting Torontonians experience the future of the personal mobility.”

I use ZipCar myself, only because it has more convenient pick-up locations in my neighbourhood, but am a big fan of AutoShare and am eager to join up when the opportunity presents itself. I don’t know if ZipCar has plans to introduce plug-in vehicles to its fleet, but I hope it does — in fact, if it doesn’t, it could be the one thing that gets me to jump ship to AutoShare (or simply be members of both services).

Car sharing gains traction with urban drivers

Car-share services across North America are proving they’re not a passing fad as a growing percentage of urban dwellers — facing high parking prices, a lack of spaces, urban congestion and urban smog, not to mention higher fuel prices — are choosing to not own vehicles. Research firm Frost & Sullivan predicts car-sharing membership will grow eightfold between now and 2016, when North American membership is expected to reach 4.4 million. This represents a car-share fleet of 70,000 vehicles. Since every car-share vehicle is estimated to replace 15 cars on the road, this works out to about a million fewer cars on the streets by 2016. It’s a trend that automakers can’t ignore, according to Frost, which predicts car sales will be affected over the long term.

I’ve got a weekend feature in the Toronto Star that takes a closer look at car-sharing in Toronto, where two services — Zipcar and AutoShare — currently compete. I’ve also got a short story on a new car-share service starting out in Baltimore called RelayRides, which pegs itself as the first peer-to-peer car-share service in North America. Instead of owning its own fleet, RelayRides enables anyone who owns a car to sign up and make their vehicles available for short-term rental by other members of the public. It’s an interesting model that, while full of risks and very tricky to implement, could work in certain markets.