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Starting tomorrow, when the Daimler-owned company launches at a splashy event off U Street, you’ll be able to pick up a car on the street and return it whenever you’re done with it, wherever you are, renting by the minute. Think Capital Bikeshare, but with blue-and-white Smartcars instead (and no docks).
My immediate question, when I heard about the point-to-point concept, was also similar to the management issue with Bikeshare: What if all the cars end up in places people don’t want to pick them up? Is there some kind of balancing operation, like what Alta does with the clunky red bikes?
Apparently not. “I can tell you, it doesn’t happen,” says Nicholas Cole, the company’s CEO, doing the media rounds today. Rather, people come into the downtown core during the day, and back to the neighborhoods at night, in a steady tidal motion. “There’s a natural gravity…we just don’t see cars off the grid.”
The bigger question: Is this a Zipcar killer? Car2Go has a low barrier to entry, with just a one-time $35 signup cost and no annual or monthly fees, so it wouldn’t be hard for Zipcar users to make the switch. And the flexibility of being able to park wherever, making use of transit for your ride back, is hard to beat.
But Zipcar still has the advantage of size*—-Car2Go is launching with just 200 cars—-and a multiplicity of models to choose from. Plus, it’ll still get to hang on to a larger number of those reserved curbside parking spaces it thought it had lost in an auction, since Car2Go decided it didn’t need them anyway (Hertz On Demand, the city’s third carsharing service, will get a few as well). Which means that resource won’t be diluted, as I’d feared.
The last thing I worried about: Since reservations aren’t necessary, wouldn’t you have people spotting the same car at once, and racing each other to grab it? Apparently that does happen. Watch it out there, people.
UPDATE, Monday, 3:38 p.m. – Zipcar has 800 cars in the Washington area, and 600 in D.C. proper. It’ll be adding 40 cars per month over the summer.