The Austin-based car-sharing company Car2Go plans to drive into the Nashville market next year, offering residents in the downtown core yet another way of getting around.
Company officials haven’t given an exact timeline, but an ordinance sponsored by Belmont-Hillsboro Council member Burkley Allen, which passed at Metro Council’s July session, opens the door for Car2Go and other car-sharing companies.
The ordinance establishes a “free-floating car share” pilot program for car-sharing vehicles to park in the public right-of-way, and, in exchange, companies would pay parking meter fees on an annual basis.
With Car2Go, members pay no annual or monthly fees, only for the time they use the car. Use is unlimited with access 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Members can use the company app or website to find one of the tiny blue-and-white Smart Cars closest to them. Drivers pick up at parking spaces within the zone and leave vehicles within that zone after they get to their destination.
Allen said she first saw Car2Go in Seattle and then again in Austin, where she put it to the test.
“It was great, because if traffic is bad, you can pull into a parking spot, be done with the car, and walk from there,” Allen points out.
“I had been trying to get more Zipcars and WeeCars installed in my neighborhood, but they require a certain critical mass of potential users at a location before they will site a car. Vanderbilt and Belmont can provide that, but a single apartment complex can’t. This puts the car sharing in reach of all apartments, as well.”
Allen is referring to Zipcar that works with students at Vanderbilt and Belmont. Enterprise also has a version called WeeCar that gives students discounts and uses a different business model.
Brad Ducey, external communications manager for Car2Go, says the company primarily looks for residential population density rather than some combination of density and demographics.
“We are looking for urban downtown areas where there are a lot of people living,” Ducey says. “It’s great to have those vibrant communities, but you have challenges that come along with that such as parking and traffic congestion. So, we decided that those are the types of areas we look at where there are a lot of people moving about and where car sharing makes the most sense.”
Ducey adds all of the North American markets have the same price structure: $.41 per minute, plus tax, and a $1 Driver Protection Fee, which limits a driver’s liability in the event of an accident.
Car2Go is expanding and currently has a presence in 14 American cities and in 29 countries. It is a subsidiary of Daimler, which manufactures Mercedes-Benz, Smart and Maybach cars. It launched the service in Germany in 2008.
“It’s been a notable success for us,” Ducey says. “What is interesting about it is that we are in very different cities. We are in Miami; we are in Calgary. We are in Denver and we are in Brooklyn. They are all very different communities.
The company generally uses the gas-powered cars in North America, with the electric cars being used in select markets such as its San Diego fleet.
“When determining where we will utilize electric-drive vehicles, we look at the infrastructure a city has in place, as the viability of electric vehicles is dependent on a robust charging infrastructure,” Ducey explains.
Currently, a Car2Go member can either use a membership card or their smartphone to access the car, but Ducey adds, the company is moving toward a process that is completely app-driven.
“So, you bring out your phone and you open the app and you can see an overhead view in your immediate area all the current vehicles that are available,” Ducey explains.
“We try to have one within a five minute walk or closer. That is when it works best. I mean, if you have to walk to the ends of the earth to get a vehicle then it doesn’t make sense.”
Allen said the service could make it easier to use the city’s current mass transit system, and, at the very least, takes cars off the road.
“I think car sharing like Car2Go makes it easier for people to be transit riders or not to own a car at all, since it provides them with easy access to a car just for the time they need it,” Allen adds. “Having multiple people sharing the same vehicle can take cars off the road, reducing both traffic and parking issues.”
Nashville’s fleet size would be about 200 cars at first, Ducey says. Vancouver has 750 vehicles and 89,000 members; Washington, DC and Seattle both have 700 cars with 69,000 and 68,000 memberships respectively.
The lynchpin that holds them all together is population density, Ducey reiterates.
“A lot of people living in an urban core need additional ways of getting around,” Ducey says. “The follow-up question usually is, ‘Well, is it a lack of public transit? Does it serve a certain demographic?’ Frankly, it is not either of those.
“We don’t look for a certain age group or income level or anything like that. Our membership is across the board. It’s more about where people are living and how they are moving around.”