11 Nuggets on Minneapolis Car2Go / @car2goMPLS?

I’ve been using Car2Go for a few months now, but haven’t written about it yet, so I guess now is as good a time as any. For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, Car2Go is a car rental service that distributes cars throughout a city, let’s you check a car out using a card + PIN, then park the car somewhere else within the boundaries of their rental territory. You only pay for the time you use the car.

The big difference between this, door mall right on cars, and things like HourCar or ZipCar, is most rental services require you to return a car to where you got it. Car2Go, on the other hand, works well for short-term rentals (even a few minutes), 1-way trips, and trips where you plan to be somewhere for a while because you can check the car in when you get there, then take that (or a different) Car2Go home when you’re ready to return.

When I tell people about it, they tend to come up with a lot of “whatabouts”. Here are some common ones:

1. Whatabout the keys? It’s in the car. You unlock the car using a card. You put the key in a dock on the dash when you’re done with your trip.

2. Whatabout gas? That’s built into the price. If a car is low on fuel, you can earn credits (currently 20 minutes of driving time) for topping off the tank using a car card that’s in the car. You can also find cars low on fuel using this site I created.

3. Whatabout the size of those cars? Yep. They’re all SmartCar cars, which are 2-door cars with very little storage. They’re not ideal for every type of trip. It’s not the ideal car for a 60-minute daily commute, but it works fine for bopping around town.

4. How do you find them? There’s an app for that. And the website.

5. How much does it cost? You pay by the minute. Here’s an invoice for a trip I took from near Loring Park to the Crooked Pint. Five minutes of driving cost $2.32.

I didn’t have to pay that $2.32 due to credits I’ve received from topping off the gas tank on previous rentals, but that’s what it would normally cost. With tax, that’s 46.4 cents/minute. 38 cents per minute to Car2Go and 8.4 cents per minute to the Governor.

6. Whatabout taxes? The sales taxes are ridiculously high (something like 22%) because the service is taxed like a traditional rental car (a portion goes to subsidize Vikings fans who were too cheap to help pay for a new stadium). Politicians love taxation without representation, so often jack up taxes on car rentals. But, the vast majority of Car2Go users actually live in the city/county/state where they use them. A politician who thinks we’re better off encouraging car micro-rentals since they’re better for the environment in a variety of ways should consider figuring out how to carve out an exemption for car rentals below a certain duration to straighten this out.

7. Whatabout meters? Car2Go has permits on the cars that allow them to be parked at meters. Not ALL meters, but most. The cutoff is based on the meter’s time limit. If it’s a 2-hour meter or longer (so not a super high intensity zone) you can park the car there. Downtown, a lot of this parking is available near Gold Medal Park, Loring Park, Elliot Park and the North Loop. Looking at where Car2Go cars are parked downtown right now gives a pretty good sense of where works:

8. How do I get one of these magical permits? Seriously. I wondered the same thing. It would be awesome if I could ditch my own car at a meter without having to deal with meters. But, I think the cost would be tough to justify for the casual user. I don’t have an exact figure, but I’m pretty sure you can get quality contract parking downtown for cheaper than the permits. Which also suggests that the City of Minneapolis is collecting some significant revenue from those permits.

9. What if I want a car to be available for me when I leave what I’m doing? The app allows you to reserve a car for up to 30 minutes. If you don’t make it there in under 30, the reservation is cancelled and you can’t re-reserve the same car. Otherwise, I bet someone would create a macro on their computer to reserve the car in front of their house every 31 minutes to keep that thing locked down. You can also put the cars in standby mode while running errands, but the meter keeps running. If you plan to be out for a long time, the costs switches from a per minute to hourly at a lower rate.

10. Whatabout snow? Car2Go currently has around 250 cars on the road in Minneapolis with more on the way. That creates a bit of a logistical nightmare for them when there’s a snow emergency. They offer a time credit for people who help keep the cars from being towed as a way to crowdsource the work. I’ve put together a script to identify cars on snow emergency routes. So far it only works for Day 1. The reverse geocoding used to decide which side of a street a car is on isn’t perfect, so I’m working on ways to solve that for the Day 2 & Day 3 snow emergency routines.

11. What’s a good use for this? Whatever you’d like, as long as your destination is within Car2Go’s boundaries (currently Minneapolis’ city limits). For creative uses, you could drive one somewhere then run home. Or drive one somewhere that you plan on drinking, then use another form of transportation to get home. Or, drive them to the LRT down by the VA to catch the train to the airport (faster and cheaper than a cab or pure public transit in most situations). Drive on to the city limit, then catch a bus to shorten your commute. Drive one between points transit poorly serves.

Now I have something I can point people to when they ask me about this. Have any other questions or comments on the service? By the way, I’m not affiliated with the service. I’m just a bit of a power user.

11 thoughts on “11 Nuggets on Minneapolis Car2Go / @car2goMPLS?”

  1. Just talked to a friend @ Car2Go who told me that during the last snow emergency they had single digit tows to the impound lot. Pretty impressive considering the number of cars on the street.

  2. Whatabout limited time parking zones? Like 30 minute parking or 2 hour parking zones?

    Could I take a car2go to, say, the Cub on Lake, park it in their lot and check out (as to not pay) if I know I’ll take it back home or somewhere? Same goes for restricted parking zones, like no parking 4-6pm.
    Can I park at those spots as long as I make sure I move them before this time frame hits?

    When does the timer start? When you scan the card? When you start the car? Will I get charged while I unlock the car to grab a snow brush and clean it off?

    Can I park em like this: https://www.google.com/search?q=smart+car+park+perpendicular&client=safari&hl=en&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ei=TZHsUqu4NIWbygHB1ICwAg&ved=0CAgQ_AUoAA&biw=320&bih=460

  3. I agree with all of this, except to add that in my experience, it seems like I have some sort of reliability issue roughly a third of the time. The car isn’t where it is supposed to be or there at all, won’t start, won’t end the trip, etc. Am I just unlucky or have you had similar issues?

  4. @Nate, I’ve had some issues issues from time to time similar to what you’ve described. I haven’t found out yet why a car displays on the map that’s not actually there. That’s frustrating. The cold weather wasn’t kind to the cars. I’ve run into a few that wouldn’t start below -5F or so. Ending the trip has been most quirky near my own home. It seems like the cars use a cell phone to call in their location and status during check-in, but may have a hard time getting signal near the river.

    @mplsmitch, that’s impressive. I’ve seen some tickets on cars from plowing that managed to avoid a free ride to the impound lot. I wouldn’t want to be the person at Car2Go who gets to spend time down there.

  5. @Philip, I believe you could park the car in limited time parking zones, but if you didn’t move it in time and it got ticketed/towed, that cost would be passed along to you. But, I think Car2Go ma starting to plotting those locations and making them do not park zones. I don’t think they technically want you to do things like your Cub lot deal, but you could probably do it.

    Not sure on the timer. It would be cool if they provided a time buffer based on the weather, so you wouldn’t be charged brush off the car or scrape the windshield.

    You’re not supposed to perpendicular park them.

  6. I like the idea of a time buffer, mainly because on your first few times out, and/or if you’ve never driven a Smart car before, it takes a minute to find everything. I spent (and paid for) three or so minutes trying unsuccessfully to get the GPS to work, and then ended up just punching it in on my phone. It also took me a minute to figure out how to turn the radio off and I had to be reminded to turn the headlights on. Maybe start the timer once the car actually starts to move, unless there’s a problem with people just getting in it to warm up?

  7. I’ve been a happy Car2Go user for a couple of months, but this post taught me a few things I didn’t already know (like the meter exemption and the 30-minute reservation window). I find C2G extremely convenient for my 2-adult, no-kid, 1-car household. And the title of your post is uncanny, since my wife and I call the cars nuggets! (“How are you getting downtown?” “Oh, I’ll just take a nugget.”) Those are some cute little cars.

  8. In Seattle, during a visit last year, Car2Go was popular with the little two-tone things everywhere, but the service was ONLY within that metro area as designated, i.e., there were parts of the metro outside of drop zones. With service areas expanding, for instance Renton became included, for those knowing the Seattle area.

    What’s the story here? What areas are served/not served?

    Finally: In Anoka County it would only work if they did it with pickup trucks.

  9. @eric z, currently, the service is only in Minneapolis city boundaries. There are some areas off limits for dropping a car (ex. high intensity parking zones downtown and near the U of MN) but that’s pretty much it. I’m sure other cities will be added over time.

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