Vancouver is the car sharing capital of North America, a tremendous feat that has been made possible thanks to one innovative company: car2go. With over 30,000 members and 700 vehicles, car2go has swept the city and is making Vancouver a key player in the global race towards more sustainable transportation systems.
Although Vancouver has been home to car sharing for decades, first with the local Modo car co-op and later joined by American-owned ZipCar, the mass adoption of car sharing as a realistic and convenient means of transportation didn’t occur until the late 2000’s. That was exactly when the Daimler-owned company car2go – then only in Germany and Austin, Texas – began operations in Vancouver.
Its progress has been remarkable. Since launch in 2011, car2go has added hundreds of vehicles and thousands of members to its service. Its home area has expanded four times well beyond its original boundaries of Nanaimo and 41st Ave. car2go now operates across nearly the entire City of Vancouver, east to Boundary Road and south to Marine Drive, as well as the City of North Vancouver. It also has designated parking areas at UBC, Horseshoe Bay, and Kwantlen University’s four suburban campuses in Richmond, Surrey, Cloverdale, and Langley.
What makes car2go different from older car sharing services is the ability to pick up and drop off the vehicle anywhere within the operating area. Previous generations of car sharing services required you to pick up the vehicle at a designated spot and return it to that same spot. car2go also introduced the pay-per-minute fee system, with hourly and daily caps, adding even more flexibility compared to just hourly and daily fees for older car share services. These two innovations make car2go attractive for short trips or connections that may not be convenient by other means.
Because of the convenience factor designed into the car2go business model, and the effective customer support strategy of car2go (view a good customer service definition here), customers have embraced the service in droves. For the car-light or car-free resident living in the city, car2go makes a perfect companion to a bike or a transit pass. When transit is inconvenient or biking isn’t safe, car2go fills the gap easily at an affordable price. With a simple scan of available vehicles on the mobile app, and an instant and free reservation, transferring from transit to car2go is easy. This makes the service an absolute must-have for easy city mobility.
And that’s why car2go is transformative. As the service has scaled and grown, many urban residents in Vancouver and North Vancouver have the ability to ditch their personal vehicles and not experience a drop in personal mobility. The City has estimated that each car share vehicle replaces up to 20 personal vehicles. That’s a significant savings in road maintenance, congestion, and parking spaces.
With a very deliberate and strategic expansion over just three years, you can expect that car2go will move into even more key markets in our region. By its fifth birthday, I wouldn’t be surprised to see car2go service operating in neighbouring cities’ key transportation hubs: Park Royal and Lynn Valley in North Vancouver, Metrotown, Brentwood and BCIT in Burnaby, the No 3 Road corridor in Richmond, and potentially even parking areas in Downtown New Westminster and Surrey Central.
Once car2go moves into these prime locations, it will take on a whole new market: the regional transit riders. These are the folks that commute daily via SkyTrain. By adding car2go service next to suburban SkyTrain stations, one could easily hop into a vehicle, make a quick trip to a nearby grocery store or recreation centre, and hop back onto transit once complete. This adds additional flexibility to the transit system, making it a more functional and attractive commuting option once supplemented by car2go.
Undoubtedly, car sharing is not for everyone or for every area. But as car2go increasingly moves into urban neighbourhoods that are conducive to car-light or car-free lifestyles, a whole new way of living emerges. No longer does the dream lifestyle require tens of thousands to support a personal vehicle. All that money becomes freed up for use in more productive areas – whether its supporting a mortgage, purchasing local or organic foods, or creating memorable experiences like vacations for any family holiday.
And then suddenly, in a blink of an eye, transportation is no longer all about the car, but about convenient and affordable multi-modal options to move about. As soon as we remove the personal vehicle as a necessity, city building is transformed and all those spaces we build just for the car can be reimagined as places for people. In Vancouver, we don’t need to wait for the autonomous car to transform our cities. A transport revolution is already here, and its powered by car2go.