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More Than 250 'Free-Floating' EVs Hit Sacramento Streets

Sacramento, Calif., officially rolled out its GIG car-share program, placing 250 electric vehicles on the streets, available to rent with an app. It's part of a push the city is making toward increasing mobility options.

SACRAMENTO, CALIF. — The electric vehicle car-sharing project in California’s capital city is officially online, with more than 250 small electric cars sitting on streets all around downtown and midtown, ready for drivers to walk up, get in and drive off.

GIG Car Share, a “free-floating” car-share platform launched through an arm of AAA, has placed 260 Chevrolet Bolt EVs into circulation in Sacramento. The cars can accessed via the GIG app, similar to unlocking an electric scooter or bike available in Sacramento via JUMP.

So far, some 20,000 residents and others in the region of 2 million have downloaded the app, said Mike Blasky, media relations specialist with AAA of Northern California, Nevada and Utah. AAA had predicted only 10,000 downloads by the time of the official launch.

“There’s already been over 80,000 all-electric miles driven by Sacramento residents. And that’s just been in the soft beta period. So we’re thrilled. Over 7,000 trips already,” said Blasky at a launch event Friday next to the California Capitol in downtown.

The service cost 40 cents a minute, or $15 an hour or $85 a day. Drivers are not responsible for charging the cars, insurance or even parking. The cars can be parked on the street, at a parking meter for free. They can be driven anywhere, but must be returned to a roughly 13-square-mile geo-fenced area that includes downtown, midtown and other outlying areas with a high density of residents and businesses.

Having a “density” of cars is crucial to ensuring the program’s success, said Blasky.

In other words, if the cars are too far away from users when they open the Gig app, they will simply use another mode of transportation.

“You need that convenience factor. Otherwise, people won’t use it,” he added.

The GIG car-share program is one piece of the city’s Sac-to-Zero program, an initiative to grow the use of zero-emission vehicles, as well as transit, as part of the city’s effort to become more sustainable and improve air quality.

The whole effort is being funded, in part, through Electrify America, a subsidiary of Volkswagen Group of America, which is investing some $2 billion nationwide over the next 10 years into electric vehicle infrastructure.

Sacramento is part of Electrify America’s Green City initiative, aimed at increasing the adoption of electric vehicles. The initiative has invested about $44 million in Sacramento.

Another car-share program is being led by Envoy, which has placed dozens of battery-electric Volkswagen Golfs at multi-family housing developments. Residents access these through the Envoy app. And by the end of the year, the region will launch an electric bus service between Sacramento and the University of California, Davis, about 15 miles west of the city.

The aim is to explore how services like these can be replicated in other cities, said Rich Steinberg, senior director of Green Cities marketing and communications at Electrify America.

“We want to learn from all those services. They’re complimentary. They work together well with each other,” Steinberg said. “And we want to see which ones perform better or worse than others, and what we can tweak or enhance. And that will then be applied as we select our next Green City.”

All of these services are designed to expose residents to not only the emerging technology of electric cars, but also a world where a personal vehicle is no longer a must-have, say officials.

And even in a region with a high level of car ownership, car-share operations can work, said Blasky, adding that the combination of Electrify America and AAA involved in the project brings a level of market penetration it might be difficult to achieve otherwise. GIG already operates in the San Francisco Bay Area cities of Berkeley, Alameda, Oakland and Albany.

"Those early numbers have been more exciting to us than we anticipated,” he remarked. “I think it could play in a lot of markets. And we have really high hopes for how it’s going to perform in Sacramento."

Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.