In the last month or so I’ve been using a great service here in Columbus that will appeal to city dwellers as well as downtown commuters; the service is called car2go. Car2go is a car rental service that rents Smartcars by the minute. The service is great for that one time you need a car.
So how does it work? You pay an initial $35 dollars to get your membership card and account setup. This cost can be waived if you use the promo code CBUS, which gets you the card and 30 free minutes of drive time. Once the free time is up, the charge per minute is $0.38, or the hourly rate is $13.99. If you need a car2go for the whole day, it’s $72.99. These costs cover the first 150 miles, and every mile you go over 150 is an additional $0.45 per mile. The cost also covers gasoline and insurance on the car.
So how do you pay for the gas? Each car has a gas card in the dashboard that you can use to fill the car; if the tank is below a quarter of a tank, then you get 20 free minutes if you take the time to fill the tank.
As long as you have a nice, normal safe trip to make, then the costs seem reasonable. However, there are a whole list of charges that you are responsible for if you do things like manage to get the car towed, lose the gas card, or have other problems. Check out the car2go website for additional information on the additional charges. Most of these additional charges are totally avoidable, but I just wanted to cover the ‘what ifs’, since it’s always possible you could get into a wreck or have something happen that might cost you. Oh and about getting into a wreck: the insurance is also included.
Finding a car2go
There are two ways you can find a car2go that is available: One is via the car2go website itself; the next is by using the mobile app.
Using the website is pretty easy. You can search for the nearest car2go by address. It has a locator function that is a button press away, but every time I used it, it said I was at the Ohio Statehouse even if I was miles away. So I usually just searched for the car by address or just looking on the map near where I was.
Once you find a car, you can reserve it to make sure it’s there when you get there. Unless you are lucky, you usually have to walk to get to the car, so it would be a shame for someone to pick the car up when you are en route to it. However, if you forgot to reserve the car and this happens, you can always use the mobile app to find the next nearest car … and then hope you don’t have the same issue.
They have apps for both iOS and Android, and both can use your phone’s GPS to accurately show you the nearest car2gos. The only thing you can’t do in the app is view account information — like the number of free minutes you have left or billing information. However, you can reserve the car2go from the app, so if you DO forget to reserve the car before you leave your warm office, you can reserve one while walking to it.
Both the website and the apps can tell you the status of the vehicle, including its appearance and the amount of fuel left in the car.
So What is a Typical Trip Like?
The membership card they give you is an RFID type of card that is small enough to fit in your wallet. The chip in the card is read by the reader on the car when you want to start the trip. It verifies your membership, unlocks the car, and starts your trip.
Once you get in the car, the LCD inside the car comes to life, you’ll punch in your pin code, and then you’ll verify the condition of the car’s exterior and interior by tapping the appropriate smiley face. Once you’ve done that, the car directs you to take the key that’s in the dashboard and start the car up.
As you go from point A to point B, you can use the car’s navigation system to help you get around if you are unfamiliar with the area. It’s simple enough to use, but the one gripe I do have about it is that it does not show some thing that are key to know when you are using car2go: The Home Area. The Home Area is the area that you must leave the car in when you end your trip. If you stop and attempt to end your trip outside of the home area, the car will let you know that you need to go somewhere else, but it would be nice if the navigation system could show you the home area so you could make sure you were okay before you try to end your trip.
Oh, and another criticism of the car2go system is that they only have FM radios in the car. No AM, and no way to plug your phone into the car for music. However, that should be okay, since you’re not going to be in the car for a tremendous amount of time.
Ending Your Trip
You typically end your trip in a public parking spot or at a meter somewhere in the home zone. car2go has an agreement with the City of Columbus so you can park the Smartcar at any parking meter for free. In other cities, there might be some designated parking lots you could use as well, but in Columbus I don’t know of any just yet. Private parking is not a place to leave a car2go, since after you end your trip, any car2go member can either reserve the vehicle or just tap their card on the reader to start their trip. So the parking spot has to be accessible to anyone. Finally, if you have any questions about where you can end your trip in your city, you can check the car2go website, and it should clear up any questions you may have.
Once you have parked the car and turned it off, you are given the option of stopping over or ending your trip if you are in the Home Zone. Stopping over is used if you need to stop and go away from the car to do whatever it is you need to do. To stop over, you simply take the car key with you and lock the car with the remote. You will be billed for every minute you are away from the car, so it’s a good idea to make the stop over quick. If you need to be away for an extended time, it’s just best to end the trip — assuming that you are in the Home Zone. If you are not in the home zone, then you can just stop over — keeping in mind that you will be billed for every minute away from the car as well as every minute in the car.
To end the trip, you put the key back in the dash, exit the vehicle, and tap your membership card back on the reader. The car will end the trip which will charge your account, lock the car, and mark it available for use.
Driving the Smartcar
Since all car2gos are Smartcars, I thought I’d write a few short words on what it’s like to drive the Smart. The Smart Car is a 2 passenger vehicle, and it is VERY tiny. When I sit in the driver’s seat, I can reach out and touch the other door. It’s that small. It also has a small cargo areas. Smart cars aren’t the greatest when you need to move a lot of things, but if you have lunch, a small package, or a bag or two of groceries, then it’s more than sufficient.
The actual driving experience of the Smart is a bit peculiar thanks to its unique transmission. I found it to be a bit jerky in response when I pressed down the throttle, but I soon got used to it. The ride itself is also a bit jaunty with some of the rougher streets shaking you up a bit. Some of this is just because the Smart is a very small car.
Not all is negative though with driving a Smart. Its small size makes it easily the most maneuverable car in traffic. Executing three point turns in the Smart is almost too easy. The small size also makes it easy to find street parking since you don’t need a whole lot of room for the car.
The best use for car2go easily matches the best uses for a Smart Car; short commutes are what it excels at, and it’s plain to see why they picked the Smart Car as the car2go vehicle of choice.
Car2go is an incredibly useful service. It’s not a good option for those who always need a car, but it is perfect for those who commute via bus but might need a car to run to get lunch or do errands when in the city for work. It’s also very useful if you regularly drive, but have a difficult time getting a parking spot for your normal ride after a certain time of day at your office. I also can see car2go procuring spots at Port Columbus as an easy and cheap way to get to your hotel when your company isn’t paying for a car rental — as long as you don’t have a really huge suitcase!
Car2go isn’t for those who need lots of room, who are carrying lots of passengers, or for those who need a car for the whole day. In fact, if you need a car for the whole day, then I would just rent one from a regular car rental place; you can get better rates doing that. However, if you just need a car to run to the bank, to get lunch, or to pick up some groceries, then a car2go is probably the right service for you.
Update: Car2go informs me that parking is not allowed at meters with a 30 minute limit, in areas where parking hours are limited because of rush hour or in an area with street sweeping in the next 24 hours. Also, most parking for car2go is on street parking and meters, but there are 45 spots in 10 different “Parkspot” locations in the Ohio State University area. Parkspot locations are off street parking designated for use specifically by Car2go subscribers. For additional information on parking with Car2go in the Columbus area check out their Columbus FAQ.
What I Like: Economical for short runs. Convenient for downtown workers.
What Needs Improvement: Home area is a bit small.