St. Paul, Minn., Approves Car2Go Car Sharing Service

Action by city officials authorizes Car2go to sprinkle hundreds of cars around the city, at meters or on neighborhood streets, as it does in Minneapolis and other cities in which it operates.

by Julio Ojeda-Zapata, McClatchy News Service / June 19, 2014
Luke Anderson of Minneapolis typically bikes to work, even in cold weather, so his wife and two-year-old daughter can use the couple's only car. But last winter was so brutal, and Anderson became ill so often, that a bicycle commute often seemed unbearable.

Anderson, fortunately, had an alternative. He could step up to any several ultracompact blue-and-white Smart Cars parked randomly on streets near his residence, gain access in seconds with an electronic-card swipe, and blithely drive away.

The Smart Cars belong to a car-sharing service called Car2go, and Anderson is among a growing number of Minneapolis residents wondering how they ever got along without it.

Now, Car2go is coming to St. Paul.

The St. Paul City Council on Wednesday voted 4-2 to let the service operate within city limits; the German company has been in Minneapolis since last year.

Action by St. Paul officials authorizes Car2go to sprinkle hundreds of cars around the city, at meters or on neighborhood streets, as it does in Minneapolis and other cities in which it operates.

The agreement between Car2go and the city calls for a minimum of 185 vehicles to be deployed between July 1 of this year and Dec. 31, 2015, with the option to add up to 100 additional vehicles within six months to a year after the launch date.

As part of the agreement, Car2go will pay the city $500 per car per year for parking privileges at meters or permit parking zones, plus an additional $400 per car per year for residential-parking privileges.

Council Member Dave Thune thinks this is a fair arrangement.

"The contentious part with some of my colleagues," said Thune, "is that it's eating up too much downtown parking. I don't think it's going happen."

Thune added, "I just think if we're going to be bold, and we really want to get people out of their personal vehicles, it's a good thing to test out without costing the city a lot of money."

Neighborhood parking is how Car2go differs from other consumer-centric auto-sharing services such as ZipCar and Twin Cities-based HourCar, which have designated spaces for the communal vehicles. Also, there are no fixed, recurring Car2go membership fees, except for a joiner fee, and members only pay when they use the cars.

p class=krttext>For Anderson and other local CAr2go converts, that is what makes this "point-to-point car-sharing" service so alluring.

If they need wheels, they use the Car2go phone app to locate one of the company's cars in their general vicinity. Typically, one can be found within walking distance. They then place a hold on the car and, minutes later, hop into it for a commute, shopping excursion, coffeeshop jaunt or other quick trip.

"It was a lifesaver last winter," said Anderson, whose wife Robin uses the family car on weekday mornings so she can take their 2-year-old girl to daycare. "No way we could have managed without it."

Anderson has run into a few Car2go hiccups. On a couple of occasions over the winter, he arrived at Smart Car he had reserved to find that its battery was dead. On several other occasions, cars he thought he had reserved via his phone were not where the Car2go app said they were, and he was never able to track the vehicles down.

Once, Anderson was unable to properly relinquish a Car2go vehicle he'd finished using. This involved using his Car2go electronic card to end the session and sign out, which is supposed to cause the vehicle to lock itself and transmit that status to its headquarters.

It wouldn't on several attempts, even though Anderson tried changing locations, so he finally just ditched it. This led to a scolding from Car2go that such a move can lead to a $100 penalty plus liability for any damage to the unlocked car. It forgave him this time.

Anderson also is never able to get through to Car2go's toll-free phone line, but e-mail usually works.

Car2go had 8,224 registered members in Minneapolis in May, according to a June report to the city.

It averaged about 3,150 rentals per week since March, according to that document, and has been averaging 1.25 rentals per car per day since that time.

Car2go has proven controversial in certain quarters.

Some have expressed concerns about Car2go activity causing a reduction in the use of public transit.

In a June 4 letter to city officials, a group called Transit for Livable Communities said Car2go activity in Seattle and Portland, Ore., doesn't bode well in this regard.

But users interviewed for this article said they have used and will continue to use public transit, yet are happy to have Car2go as alternate transportation when it's appropriate.

©2014 the Pioneer Press (St. Paul, Minn.)