This week, car2go – Daimler’s one-way car club using Smart cars – launched in Birmingham. This is the second UK city to see these “Boris cars” on the roads, after London.
Last year, the RAC Foundation published Car Rental 2.0 which demonstrated what impacts adoption of various kinds of car club might have on traffic in London.
However, when that report was published, there wasn’t a single working one-way scheme in place in the UK. All the car clubs required users to return cars to the parking spaces they got them from.
That’s now changed, and I recently had a chance to try one out in one of the three London local authorities where they currently work.
Car2go works via a website and mobile phone app. I was at a CarPlus – the car sharing trade body – event near Old Street, and when I left for the day I easily managed to locate one around the corner.
After checking the condition of car on the outside, I swiped my car2go card (a bit like an Oyster card) and the vehicle unlocked. Once in, the screen on the stereo has instructions to guide you through getting on the move (a PIN code, and then the ignition key is released). Type your destination into the satnav and off you go.
This was a rather contrived journey (Old Street to St Pancras) because I needed an excuse to have a go in one, but the scheme allows you to park for free in any legal space in Newham, Islington or Sutton.
Once on the go though, the scheme does raise some questions:
- Although the user interface is neat and tidy, it is slow (much slower than any stereo or satnav anyone would be willing to buy nowadays). As you pay for car2go by the minute, you are in effect paying extra because the interface slows you down.
- Is the minute the most appropriate unit to pay for travel? The scheme made me feel a bit like I was being timed. Did this have an effect on my driving? What if I got stuck in traffic? Maybe distance travelled is more appropriate.
- The current London scheme is only a tiny fraction of the centre of the city – a tiny patchwork of coverage. So you need to know exactly what borough you are driving in. Not until you drive one of these vehicles will you realise how often you don’t know that, and the satnav only helps to some extent. At least the coverage map of Birmingham looks good.
- What’s the trip? With such limited coverage, good quality alternatives of every mode and limited space, what person/trip purpose/trip distance combination is this aimed at?
I parked up near King’s Cross, amazed at how easily a very small car fits into a parking space. The car does give you an eco-driving score at the end, but timed-by-the minute isn’t the best for encouraging one’s eco-driving.
In the end, the journey cost me about £8 – that’s for about 24 minutes. Other firms are moving into this field, including BMW with their “premium mobility service”. The question is: over that distance, could it be matched by that other premium mobility service – the black cab?