Carless in Seattle

January 19, 2015

Carsharing is taking off in Seattle. Last week the Seattle City Council’s transportation committee voted for an increase in carshare permits and operators, reports The Urbanist, in a move that would both benefit and encourage competition with Car2go, a company that rents minicars on a minute-by-minute rate. Carsharing — any service that allows users to find and rent a nearby car, usually in exchange for a membership fee — is at present dominated in Seattle by Car2go, which was awarded a pilot program monitored by the city’s transportation department.

car2go in Belltown, Seattle

Car2go smartcars in Seattle’s Belltown neighborhood. Image from Atomic Taco.

Around 2,000 Seattle residents have already given up their cars since joining Car2go, reports the blog, The Stranger. The carshare company, notes GeekWire, is available in 60 cities and offers more than 12,000 vehicles, but its greatest U.S. presence is in Seattle, where it has been available since early 2013 and today boasts 59,000-plus members and 500 cars. The membership number itself is staggering; Councilmember Tom Rasmussen noted that that figure is “…starting to approach 10 percent of the population. In terms of membership, that’s huge.”

Car2go’s process is a simple one: Locate a smartcar using the mobile app, then drive the car for an unlimited amount of time before parking it in an approved city street parking spot. The going rate is 41 cents per minute, $14.99 per hour, and $84.99 per day in Seattle.

Lest this blog read like an advertisement, it must be noted that Car2go is providing benefits beyond convenience for drivers; as the government notes, it has reduced the number of vehicles on the road by anywhere from 700 to 1,100. Fewer cars may translate into reduced pollution and CO2 emissions, lowered travel costs, and decreased traffic and road congestion. Seattle Department of Transportation director Scott Kubly said that expanding carsharing options would be “a key component to creating choices for people to get around the city, and allowing people to live a car-free or car-light lifestyle.”

The city’s potential legislation — which has to be voted on by the full council — would grow the number of carsharing companies permitted in Seattle from one to four; it would also let each company operate 500 vehicles this year, with the potential to offer an additional 250 vehicles each as the services expand. As The Stranger notes, “Car2go is the only ‘free-floating’ carshare company in town. Zipcar also has a presence, but since they have fixed parking spots (where you pick up a car and return it), they’re not affected by the council’s vote.” (Check out this useful blog post exploring the benefits of Zipcar versus Car2go.)

Keep in mind: carsharing is different from ride-sharing, which is offered by services that allow app users to request rides from career, and, in certain cities, laymen, drivers, and is offered by companies like Lyft and Uber. While ridesharing has drawn criticism and has even been restricted or banned in certain cities, it was regulated and legalized in Seattle last year.

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Category: municipal, Transportation

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