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Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Archive for August 8th, 2011

CAR2GO first trip

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I reported the launch of the one way car rental service months ago. I was one of the first to sign up while membership was free, but up until yesterday there was no real reason to use the service. In part that is due to its geographic restriction with cars only available and which must be returned to the northern part of Vancouver – from the seawall to 41st Avenue.

Yesterday we were planning a walk along the sea wall, and last week I had seen a tweet from Car2Go with a short link (tiny.cc/5wkqs) to a car finding web page that would work on any mobile. There has been an app for iPhones and some others for a while. This new one actually links to a web site in Germany which uses Google maps to show where you are and where the nearest car is. I imagine the iPhone app automates some of this by using GPS, but it is not difficult to enter a street address – including the city name – and the map information is returned quite quickly. (Even so, I hope some clever clogs develops an app for use with the Symbian system using the Car2Go API.) This was even easier than entering a bus stop number into Translink’s web site, which produces only schedule information, not real time.

Nanton at Arbutus

As it happened, the nearest car was near a bus stop (Arbutus at Nanton) and I recalled seeing reserved parking spaces for Car2Go at Granville Island. At 35c a minute, the car is even competitive with transit as the rental time was about ten minutes. So for two people $3.50 was less than than two one zone transit tickets ($2.50 each) – and parking (of course) is free. The journey time was much faster and the drop off much closer than the #16 bus stop on Granville Bridge.

Granville Island

Granville Island

As soon as we got out of the car, a visitor started asking me about the service. As you can see from the picture there are three spaces reserved near the market but if they are full you can park in any 3 hour space – if you can find one.

Balsam at Cornwall

For the return we had walked to Kits beach and there are two spaces at Cornwall and Balsam. Only one car was there but it was out of service awaiting attention.

Kits Beach

So I used the phone again and found another on 2nd Ave – a short walk away. Actually the map turned out to be more useful than the street address since the car was actually parked in the lane behind the building (quite legally).

Indeed for a blogger there is very little to write. The service was exactly as advertised. The cars were convenient, easy to use and the whole process was almost effortless. I had originally thought that it would be unlikely that CAR2GO could beat transit on cost and, of course, my journey times reflect yesterday’s very light traffic. On a weekday at peak periods, it might easily have taken twice as long, and I could well have spent more time looking for a parking space. But compared to the last time we made a similar trip by transit – when the return journey required a transfer with a long wait for the bus connection – service was indeed far superior. Even taking the time of finding the second car into account.

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UPDATE In the interests of accuracy and complete disclosure I have now been to the Car2Go account page and established that the trip time was slightly more than I estimated and I forgot about the HST

So outwards it was 11 minutes (3 miles) $3.85 plus $0.46 tax and back 13 minutes (4 miles) $4.55 plus $0.55 tax: round trip for two people $9.41 including HST. So about the same as four one way rides on transit at $2.50 each – $2.10 if you buy faresavers.

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For Vancouver it ought to be acutely embarrassing that this service was established while they were still in the process of trying to get a one way bike rental system going. These have been available for some time now in London, Paris, Toronto and Montreal and should be – in my estimation at least – an essential part of the “greenest city” claim. The Smart cars are good but they run on gasoline (electric cars are promised for future operation elsewhere). People who can rely on getting a car when they need one from car share and one way rentals do not need to own a car (or multiple cars) and tend to use transit and other modes more frequently than similar households that do own cars. But for many journeys a bicycle would be as convenient and much less fossil fuel would be burned.

I found the Smart car to be surprisingly roomy. In my Yaris I push the driving seat back to its limit to give myself a comfortable driving position. In the Smart, doing the same thing put me too far from the controls! The side mirrors in the Smart are manually adjustable – I had a passenger to sort out the near side one, but it would have been much easier if I had been on my own to have had the electric type the Yaris has. I paid no attention to the GPS map display: I have never used one in any car. I do like the fact that the radio comes on to CBC Radio 2. And the previous user had set the air conditioning on at maximum – which is noisy and not really needed for city driving speeds. I found the controls a bit heavy compared to the Yaris – the pedals need a really firm push, and the steering got lively on some of the streets where lack of maintenance is used as a way to calm traffic. But parking in such a small car is a snap.

If you are in a hurry, I think the combination of a smart phone and a smart car will work well in any trip where the transit alternative requires a transfer – or could impose a pass up. Obviously when the schedulers regard 15 minutes as “frequent service” it is often going to be quicker to find and use a Car2Go than wait for a bus. Indeed, one of the main reasons that Car2Go was established in Austin Texas was the paucity of transit service. And again it ought to be a matter of embarrassment to the responsible politicians that Vancouver does not have a good enough transit service that Car2Go finds such a ready market in the the one part of the region that actually has something approaching a reasonable transit service. In part, those who defend transit need to revise the attitude that there is something worthy about making sacrifices. It may indeed increase their own self esteem to be seen to be taking transit to make needlessly time consuming and inconvenient trips but it is not a sensible public policy approach to increasing transit mode share by expecting everyone else to think the same way.

Expansion to the suburbs for one way car rental is going to be very welcome.

AFTERTHOUGHT – The people who should really be worried are the taxi operators. They have been very successful in keeping taxis exceedingly scarce and expensive but at least now, for the northern end of Vancouver, there is a far better alternative, if you can drive.

Written by Stephen Rees

August 8, 2011 at 8:52 am

Posted in car sharing, Transportation

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