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Review: car2go Portland

car2go

A few months ago, I woke up one day to discover hundreds of little white-and-blue Smart cars scattered all over Portland. I wondered: who owns all of these cars, and why have they come to my city? It turns out that they all belonged to car2go, a car sharing service in town. Intrigued, I looked into car2go, and what I’ve found is pretty interesting.

Unlike Zipcar, the dominant player in Portland’s car-sharing world, which requires you to a) reserve a car in advance and b) return a car to the location you picked it up, car2go’s model is designed for on-demand, one-way rentals. It works like this. Walk up to a car, tap your member card on the windshield, get in, and drive off. When you’re finished, just park the car in any normal street parking spot, anywhere in the city, tap your card again, and walk away. That’s right — return it anywhere, and don’t even bother paying for parking. Your credit card gets charged later based on how long you drive.

Of course, it isn’t quite that simple. You can’t park in parking spaces designated for less than an hour. You can’t rent cars that have been reserved by other users. There is a “Home Area” that restricts where you can end your rental. And then, of course, there’s the price: 35 cents per minute, including gas and insurance.

I joined car2go shortly after it launched in April and have been testing out the service since. And I’ve been using the service more than I ever thought I would. It’s been a lifesaver on those dreary mornings when I just don’t have it in me to ride my bike to work. I use it for runnings errands for the office, and when I go grocery shopping and just have too much stuff with me to carry easily.

Now, keep in mind that I’m coming from a somewhat unusual perspective: I don’t own a car, I live in a close-in neighborhood, and my primary mode of transportation is a bicycle. For me, car2go has been a super useful addition to my transportation options. I love that I can combine car2go’s one-way trips with other kinds of transportation without much trouble. I never joined Zipcar because it felt too rigid — I don’t plan my trips in advance, I take multiple stops, and don’t end up in the place where I started. car2go feels more like a self-drive taxi than a traditional car rental, but cheaper and more convenient.

There are some downsides, though. Car availability can be spotty. It’s getting more and more common for there to be no cars within reasonable walking distance from my house in SE Portland. I am reluctant to rely on car2go because I just don’t know whether a car will be available when I need one. So using car2go is always an impulsive decision, and this does not appeal to the planner part of my brain. And the price adds up quickly. Even with hourly and daily caps, if you want to drive a car for more than a few minutes, it may actually be cheaper to rent a car from a traditional rental company.

Although the customer service has been friendly and helpful, it seems to take 3-4 business days for any changes to be made for my account. Smart cars are cute and easy to park, but there are times I’ve wished I could drive more than one one passenger. The car2go website is slow and confusing (I’ve been using the C2G app for iPhone, which is definitely worth the cost). Finally, there’s the thinly-veiled fact that car2go is owned by Daimler — If you think you’re helping out some scrappy startup, think again.

I’d definitely recommend giving car2go a try if you live in one of its service areas. Its model may very well be the future of private car transportation: ubiquitous vehicles, available when you need them, without the stresses of pumping gas or maintenance.

Have you used car2go? What do you think about it? I’d love to hear about it on Twitter.