If you’ve been in downtown Portland since April, you’ve almost certainly seen the blue-and-white Car2Go Smart Fortwos tooling along the city streets. Unlike Zipcar, Car2Go only has one model, and all 250 in the initial fleet were identical. Just as Zipcar responded to the Portland market’s need for cargo carrying with Zipvan, Car2Go has responded to the city’s dedication to electric-vehicle infrastructure by adding 25 all-electric Smart Fortwos to the local fleet. These look just like the gasoline-powered cars, but they plug in rather than fuel up.
Car2Go members use an iPhone app or the website to locate and reserve a car, then hold up their membership card to the windshield to unlock the doors. Once on the clock in a Car2Go vehicle, you pay 38 cents per minute to run errands or avoid a downpour. When you’re done, park it anywhere and get out. No need to return it to a particular parking space or a lot; wherever you leave it is where the next driver will find it. As with Zipcar, fuel and insurance are included. Stafford says that people take shorter trips in Car2Go vehicles than they do in Zipcars or traditional rental cars, with the average being 30 minutes or less.
Two car-sharing services in a metro area with a population of just over 2 million seems like it’s probably enough (not to mention the peer-to-peer car sharing service Getaround), but Enterprise Holdings, the rental-car giant, wants to get its hand in the game, too. Renting a vehicle for more than an overnight (which, through Zipcar, lasts from after work to the next morning) means a more traditional car rental. “We do not view car sharing as an alternative to car rental but as a natural extension of our extensive neighborhood network of rental locations,” says Ned Maniscalco, a spokesman for Enterprise Holdings, via email.
Oregon’s college students may be more familiar with the company’s WeCar by Enterprise service, which has been operating in Eugene, Springfield and Corvallis since 2008. Maniscalco says the service is coming to Portland soon.
Zipcar, Car2Go and Enterprise Holdings all see growth potential in businesses and their employees. Companies can get corporate memberships for their workers to use. Employees who travel can also use their Zipcar or Car2Go memberships in other cities. Car2Go members in Portland can drive Smart Fortwos in North American cities where the service has offices, and Zipcar members can reserve a car in any city where the company operates around the globe, including the U.K. and Spain.
With all these options, can this many car-sharing services survive in the city where they were born? All three companies say yes. They agree that Mel Wells, a carless Portlander who works downtown for a nonprofit, is a typical user. She mixes and matches her Car2Go and Zipcar memberships, TriMet tickets and trusty bike to fit her needs. Some months, she uses only her bike, but when she moved over the summer, she used Zipcar for trucks and SUVs. She finds that a Car2Go vehicle is almost always closer than a Zipcar, which works better for client meetings or running errands.
“These services work best for people who are comfortable in an urban setting,” says Stafford. People like Wells, who wants access to everything a city has to offer without having to own a car.