This post was a guest contribution from Sebastian Blanco, editor in chief of AutoblogGreen.
I recently had the chance to visit Austin, Texas and experience the Car2Go system. If you don't know about this car-sharing program, let me tell you it's simply the coolest way I've come across to reduce vehicle congestion and environmental impact in a city while still allowing individuals their "own" car. Here's how it works.
Daimler has placed 300 special Smart ForTwos into downtown Austin. Anyone who wants to can pay a $35 fee (not an annual fee) and then use their membership card to unlock the doors of any unused Fortwo parked anywhere. Once you're inside the car, you type in your PIN (this step prevents someone from absconding with a vehicle in your name if you lose your card) and then drive to where you want to go. You could, of course, take the car anywhere, but the idea is to use it within the 52-square mile area that the Car2Go program calls home. When you get to your destination, you lock things up again and walk away.
While the car is yours, you pay 35 cents a minute, and this can add up somewhat quickly, but when you compare the cost to actually flat-out buying a car, it's, well, pennies to the dollar. In my time in the city, it appeared that 300 cars were enough for the member base, and both Car2Go representatives and users told me that there are cars available when people want them. Figuring out how many cars are needed in a place is important, since Daimler plans to expand the program to more American cities later this year (Car2Go also operates in two cities in Germany). Until earlier this month, there were only 200 cars in Austin, but after a year of operation, the company made the decision to expand – and the "geofence" where users can park the car also exanded by a few square miles.
These details can't really describe just how unusual a carsharing model like Car2Go is, and how it can change the way you think about cars. There's no question that some people need them to get around on a daily basis, but people in cities don't always fall into this category. So, instead of a 2,000-pound hunk of metal that you need to insure and park and worry about just so you can pick up heavy groceries once a week, you just find a car when you need one (of course, there are smartphone apps and a website that help you find that car at that time). It's surprisingly easy to shift to this kind of vehicle use, if you fit the profile of a Car2Go user. If it came to your city, would you be one?
I go into more detail on the program over on AutoblogGreen (including some of the problems with the program). The short version, though, is that this sort of thing that can really help cities shift to a cleaner, greener transportation model. Car2Go users are also bikers and public transportation users, people who need to get around but don't need (or don't want) to own a car. Basically, this is a glimpse into the future, and it's very cool to see.