I'm pretty excited about a new carshare service that's rolling out in DC on Saturday, called Car2Go. Why would I be excited about this if I already have Zipcar, you ask?
All their cars are tiny Smart FourTwo hatchbacks (the company is a subsidiary of Daimler, the maker of the Smart). Unlike Zipcar's half-hour increments, Car2Go charges by the minute. But here's the big difference: You don't have to reserve a car in advance, and you don't have to commit to a time that you'll return the car. Just use it until you're done, and that's what you'll pay for. And, like Capital Bikeshare, you don't have to return the car to the same place you picked it up. Even more impressive, you can leave the car in any legal parking spot in the city -- even metered spots. Car2Go has an arrangement with the city to pay for all parking. There are only a few areas of the city, like Rock Creek Park, where you're not allowed to leave the car. You'll be able to see the locations of available cars in a smartphone app, or you can just come upon one on the street and swipe your card. One nice touch: If you end up having to put gas in the car, not only do you not pay for the gas, they will give you a credit to your account for the time spent filling up.
While it might be a little hard to envision how this will be useful, I can think of lots of situations in which it will be great. Consider, for example, that Car2Go will cost slightly less than a taxi for most one-way trips ($0.38 per minute, maxing out at $14 per hour). Not to mention that stopping to pick something up on your way home isn't really an option in a taxi. Likewise, if you take bikeshare or Metro to meet up with a friend, and want to head somewhere together afterward, you can just hop in a car. Furthermore, Car2Go happens to be a great complement to Zipcar. You're not going to pick up a dining room table from Ikea or go hiking in Shenandoah in a Smart FourTwo, and Zipcar rates are lower, but small trips that are currently a pain with Zipcar ("Will this take less than 60 minutes?") will be much easier with Car2Go.
They've been operating in Austin, TX and a number of European cities for a little while, and apparently the cars have stayed fairly well distributed across the city. There will be 200 cars in DC to start; I'll be interested to see how it goes. It all adds up to making the city a place where it's much less essential to own a car. Hopefully that will lead to more articles like this one about how auto manufacturers are struggling to get young people excited about buying cars.