Guest Blog by David Sachs, Editor, Streetsblog Denver
In September the car-sharing company Car2Go controversially eliminated neighborhoods from its Denver “home area” — the locations where drivers can pick up and drop off the vehicles — to focus on where most of its members live. Last month ABC7 handed misinformed residents a megaphone to complain about the featherweight cars parking on “their” street. Last week the company announced a month-long promotion, cutting the membership fee to $5 (from $35) and the per-minute rate to 29 cents (from 41 cents).
It’s fair to say the company’s profile is growing in Denver. But does Car2Go complement other modes like transit, biking, and walking, or does it compete with them?
From a public policy standpoint, car-sharing should help reduce private car ownership and curb the number of car trips people take citywide. But car-sharing might also replace trips that people would have made by transit or biking. What’s clear is, with 35,000 members in two years — and likely more after this membership drive — Car2Go has a seat at the table.
I spoke with Car2Go President and CEO Paul DeLong about the company’s role in Denver’s evolving transportation network. Here’s what he had to say (condensed):
Do you see decreasing individual car ownership as one of Car2go’s goals?
I think that’s a really good question. Absolutely, what we do does have an effect on the way people think about car ownership. The facts are the facts, and people aren’t buying as many vehicles as they once did. People who are 16 and 17 may not be interested in a driver’s license. When people give up their vehicles or suppress ownership, it is definitely a byproduct of services like us. But it’s not just us, it’s us complementing other forms of transportation in Denver. [Giving up car ownership] is a byproduct of our service, no doubt about it, but at the end of the day we’re trying to move people fast and conveniently.
Does car-sharing compete with or complement other modes of urban transportation?
People think my competitor is the private car, but my true competitor is apprehension — making people understand that there are so many ways of moving around. Offering a way to provide first-and-last mile connections is a way to do that. Basically 90 percent of our trips are 30 minutes or less, and within those 30-minute trips, a lot are about 15 minutes, going two to three miles at most. From a business perspective, we always talk about offering instant mobility access on your own terms.
People disaffected by the change in Car2Go’s home area are clamoring for the old one. What needs to happen to widen the home area?
The jury is still out on that. For us, we have to do a lot more homework, and find out what more we can do. Maybe it’s finding dedicated parking spots with private parking hubs so people can begin and end their rentals in their areas. Then we’ll see if people are using the service more often.
About 86 percent of our trips were basically in our home area that exists today. We’re not subsidized, we’re a private business. It’s just that if we’re not seeing mobility patterns that make sense, then we need to optimize. Cars were just idling in areas for days. The biggest thing for us was solving our availability issue — to increase availability to more customers.
Shouldn’t more members and this price cut help you expand?
The temporary per-minute pricing is at five locations — Austin, Miami, Denver, Columbus, and Minneapolis-St. Paul. Some of those cities have been affected by the home area optimization. It’s kind of a pilot for us, to re-inspire our members that have been loyal to us over the past two years to start using the service more often, and entice new people. And if it works, maybe this is something that we continue throughout 2016.
Some people in Denver see sharing cars as an affront to the private automobile culture. How do you combat that?
I think that it is relevant in many of our cities. The people complaining are the ones that aren’t using the service, and don’t know how we are affecting this city in a positive aspect. All people see is the blue and white Smart cars. What they don’t understand is what they’re doing to complement other forms of transportation — how this service has affected their lives. It’s about education and our storytelling. The more people understand how people are using this service, maybe they’ll hopefully get rid of this idea of this service “flooding theirs streets with cars.” Because that’s not what we do.