Flexibility – The Latest Transportation Option

Car Sharing Battle
All Photos by Randy Stern

If there was one truth over my nine years as a Twin Cities resident – we love being sustainable and show it as much as we can.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. From global meetings in Kyoto to simple acts of recycling and bicycle share, our progressive community by the Mississippi River has embraced the ways of green – or being green. That is not to say that there are those who rather drive Maseratis or heavy-duty pickups around town because they have to or are entitled to. As long as they split their recyclables and cut down the ozone around their home, they will be fine.

The whole idea of community sustainability has reached a new plateau. In the past year or so, car-sharing services began to expand in Minneapolis. The City Council entertained by proposals to use on street parking to land car sharing vehicles for public use. This, along with the news of a new on-campus contract forged between the University of Minnesota and HourCar – the first car share service in this area – vehicular sustainability may bee seeing higher visibility and purpose, as intended by Mayor R.T. Rybak when he first arrived at City Hall.

Until recently, HourCar was the only car share service in town – it currently is the only one operating in the city of Saint Paul. Minneapolis, however, has seen a plethora of additional services knocking on HourCar's door. ZipCar decided to move away from the campus of the University of Minnesota into various neighborhoods in the city. Enterprise Car Share has joined the parking lot hub fray with its own small fleet within the city limits. You could also do car – or truck or van – share through Hertz at a select rental location or a nearby Lowe's home improvement center.

These services are fine. If you find their location at a parking facility, swipe your fob or card and go, you are good to go? But, they are only positioned in certain neighborhoods where you would most likely think car-sharing services would be utilized. There are more than enough cars to share in downtown, Uptown and near Nordeast Minneapolis. HourCar is spread out to other neighborhoods and along transit corridors.

What about the other neighborhoods in Minneapolis? What about North Minneapolis? Heck, what about other parts of the city?

It appears that car sharing will have company in the city of Minneapolis – in the form of a fleet of smart forTwos.

Car2Go in Minneapolis

Meet car2go.

The new car sharing service landed in Minneapolis recently after successful launches in various cities across Europe and North America. It is actually an arm of Daimler AG, hence the choice of the smart forTwo Pure coupes in the white-and-blue motif seen around town.

The concept of car2go is simple: Become a member, download an app for your smart phone, locate a vehicle within the "home area," reserve it and go. That is, as long as you flash your membership card on the reader in front of the smart forTwo, go through prompts on the infotainment screen to make sure the car is in good shape and remove the key from its slot – onto the console-located ignition switch.

Members are billed on a per minute basis. If a trip only lasts a few minutes – that is all you are billed. Some trips involve just going across town to do some shopping, or grabbing a car out of downtown Minneapolis to home, instead of Metro Transit. The local car2go people see their service as just a part of the transportation system in Minneapolis. That also includes taking a car2go smart to another car sharing service's hub for a longer trip. You might even see a car2go near your bus stop to drive home, if you not inclined to do the walk to your door.

Car2go's strategy is make the vehicles available citywide – within the "home area." The smart forTwos have appeared in parts of North Minneapolis, as well as deeper parts of the city. According to local car2go management, they try to position the cars to make it convenient for everyone in the city to reserve one via the mobile app.

The idea of finding one on the street somewhere to use is a good idea. It eliminates having to take a bus or train a distance to meet one of the other car sharing services and take it back when the time is done. Car2Go's flexibility is a major plus for people needing a way to get somewhere quick within the "home area," or using one for a long shopping trip and such. Not to mention the idea of reserving one even when you are in front of the car itself. No set times and limitations for one to simply reserve, flash the card and go.

Car2Go in Minneapolis

The concept of car2go attracted me to put this to the test. Having no vehicles in for review, I ended up taking public transit to work and back. Turns out I had another overtime stint, so I left to walk across the Camden Bridge to look for a way to get dinner and home. Normally, that would mean waiting for the bus on North Lyndale Avenue. Yet, it was -4 degrees Fahrenheit – not exactly bus waiting weather.

Halfway across the Camden Bridge, I took out my smart phone to the car2go app. Sure enough; there was a car in the neighborhood a few blocks from Lyndale. In a couple of taps, the nearby smart was reserved. I had thirty minutes to get to the car, swipe my card and go. It was probably a few minutes, but the card was swiped and the smart lit up ready to go.

You would be surprised how well the smart held it own in the cold. It took a while for the heater to get going, but the smart was moving down 44th Avenue North to forage for dinner. Down Victory Memorial Parkway, my mind considered a place off of Lowry Avenue – Tootie's. I knew I was going to go back into the smart, so I clicked on the stopover button, locked the car and had dinner.

Getting back to the car was just as easy. Unlock, start it up and take it to its final stop – the corner of 29th Avenue North and Washburn Avenue. Why there? Well…my home was a couple of blocks away outside of the "home area." The rule of thumb is to keep the car2go vehicle within the "home area" for the next person to use. Also, I know there are no parking limitations on that block.

The next morning, the temperature was now up to 1 degree Fahrenheit. Still cold, but a decision had to be made. Do I take the smart to the area near work and eliminate the bus altogether? Or, do I supplant one of the buses with it. Or, just go it alone via the bus?

Car2Go in Minneapolis

These are questions car2go's Minneapolis people hope we would ponder. After all, it may not be the exact replacement to a bus or a car in this town. Car2go is an augmentation to the transportation options offered in Minneapolis.

The answer to those questions came about with an experiment. I decided to supplant my bus commute to my day job with car2go – a straight shot of four miles across North Minneapolis. My walk between home and the worksite consisted of two blocks, however a car2go replaced two buses and an extended transfer. Total cost: $6.95 for 15 minutes of commute. It was more expensive than Metro Transit, but it was much cheaper than a cab doing the same trip. There was walking involved, but not obtrusive enough to ensure that the car2go smart was within parking regulations by agreement with the city of Minneapolis.

Granted, the idea of darting across town in a smart forTwo Pure coupe may not be the most desirable way to accomplish a key journey in our routine. However, car2go has got something right here in Minneapolis. The more flexible the transportation option; the better the community will become.

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