Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

I hope Car2Go will not replace SmartCars with Mercedes vehicles in DC

Update: Tuesday 10/24

Car2Go did reach out to me about the post, writing:
We’d like to assure you that we are continuing to offer a mixed fleet of both smart and Mercedes-Benz car2gos in DC! Hope that puts your mind at ease.


A Smart Car is smaller than a treebox.SmartCar parked on Pennsylvania Avenue SE.

As they are doing in Austin, Texas ("Car2Go booting Smart cars in favor of subtler, larger Mercedes fleet," Austin American-Statesman) and Portland, Oregon ("Car2go ditching Smart cars in Portland, switching to all Mercedes-Benz fleet," Portland Oregonian).  I put in query to car2go after the report from Austin, but they haven't replied and I haven't followed up.

In the Spring, Car2Go added Mercedes vehicles to their fleets across the country, in all likelihood to box out competition from BMW and other more upscale car sharing firms, but also to broaden the number of trips that can be accomplished by using the service by adding four-door vehicles.

The use of the Mercedes vehicles is somewhat more expensive than using the SmartCar, and significantly cheaper than using the BMW Reach Now service ("BMW plans for a future where no one buys cars," CNN), although at the present time the Reach Now service uses both Mini and more upscale vehicles.

I don't know about Austin and Portland, but I know in DC, Seattle and the borough of Brooklyn--the three largest communities of Car2Go users--because the street parking space inventory is so constrained, the small size and ease of parking the SmartCar ForTwo two-door vehicle is one of the two primary killer app/unique selling propositions" of the service, the second one being the one-way  nature of the service (versus the two-way nature of Zipcar, where you have to keep the car until you return it to the place where you picked it up).

The table below lists the length of cars in the Car2Go and BMW Reach Now car sharing fleets.  Car2 Go is active in 7 markets in the US (and 4 in Canada), Reach Now in 3.

Vehicle  Length in inches Length in feet
SmartCar ForTwo 106.18.83
Mercedes CLA 182 15.17
Mercedes GLA 174 14.5
BMW 328xi 178-181 14.83 - 15.08
BMW 330xi 182.5 15.2
BMW i3 157 13.1
Mini 2-door 151-158 12.6 - 13.16
Mini 4-door 168.3 14.025

From the PO:
They’ll be replaced with Mercedes-Benz CLA sedans and GLA compact SUVs, which were rolled out in Portland in February. Car2go, Smart and Mercedes-Benz all share a corporate parent in Daimler AG.

“What we’ve really seen is just a clear preference for these cars,” said Ken Hills, Car2go’s general manager for Portland. “They’re being chosen by our members more often, and they’re really being used for much longer trips.”
I think Car2Go may be missing a key point. It is true with SmartCars a particular type of trip tends to be accomplished, because of the car's small size (although a third person can fit in the cargo compartment in a pinch). It's true that the four-door cars capable of accommodating up to five people and more luggage are likely to be used for longer and different trips than can be accommodated by the smaller vehicle.

But Car2Go shouldn't be making an either-or decision, but an and-and decision, broadening the fleet by adding the Mercedes CLA and GLA vehicles to enable car sharing users to accomplish a greater variety of trips using the service, not unlike how Zipcar has a wide variety of vehicle types in its fleet (they are not limited to the makes of one company, unlike the Daimler Benz-owned Car2Go service) including pick up trucks and vans.

If Car2Go switched exclusively to Mercedes vehicles in the DC market, I imagine use will drop off because it will be much more difficult to park the vehicles--finding six more feet to park a vehicle can be very difficult and will add significant time to a trip just to find parking, making Car2Go more inconvenient, rather than convenient and efficient.

Past entries:

-- "Car share news roundup," 2016
-- "Car share users are getting abused by the cities that ostensibly support car sharing as a form of sustainable mobility," 2016
-- "Car2Go agreement with Montreal's Trudeau Airport could be a model for other jurisdictions
," 2015
-- "Car2Go is coming to Brooklyn," 2014

My original pieces from 2005:

-- "Car sharing in DC, where I argued that it should be a priority to charge these services for their use of the public space
-- "High Cost of Free* Parking Revisited and Car Sharing in DC," where I reconsidered, better recognizing the value of these services as a method for managing parking inventory

Note that the Car2Go program has been introduced to some cities and later shut down, including in San Diego and Minneapolis. I would argue you need a fairly dense population at the core, a "Walking City" urban design ("Transportation and Urban Form," Peter Muller), and a rich network of sustainable mobility services in which services like one-way car sharing (and bike sharing) are embedded and part of a range of modes of which "car light" households partake.

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At 10:19 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

smart cars being discontinued in US besides electric models.

Most cities not ready for electric charging.

Car2Go suffers from Uber and a rental car tax on rides -- makes more money on hourly and longer trips.

At 10:42 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Didn't know that. That sucks.

Yes, the tax on uses is "unfair" in how it privileges ownership.

At 10:53 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

Ownership? don't know about that. Rental car taxes are one of those taxes that cities love to throw out and hit tourists with. I can't imagine there are that many rentals cars in DC and it ends up hating residents more.

The $1 for insurance is also ridiculous.

There are maybe 3-4 markets in DC where the smarter parking advantages help. And I'll be honest the new gen smart cars are less efficient in parking for a variety of reasons (need a backup camera).

At 12:21 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

They are harder to see out the back window, sure, but they are just as easy to park, in my opinion anyway.

Not an issue on my street, but in SW, Petworth, Capitol Hill, in the core, it's huge.

WRT "the tax," what I meant was that a DC resident who is a car user pays a per trip fee for using a car share, the sales tax on the trip. Sure, I think services should be taxed.

But if DC resident car users have to pay "this fee" "per use" while DC resident car owners parking on the street are significantly subsidized either paying a low annual fee for a residential parking permit, getting a free "visitor" permit (which is often abused) or not having to pay even that small fee depending on where you live in the city, it seems "unfair" that car users pay more and extra (also very large fees paid by the companies come back to us and are paid by us as a significant portion of the hourly fee/per minute charge)

2. Note that Car2Go reached out to me and said they won't be discontinuing the SmartCar in DC, so I updated the entry.

I must say those back up cameras do make a difference, and yes when I was parking a Car2Go yesterday I was half hoping there was such a camera in the car. Many zipcars have them now...

At 1:10 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...


In my past blog entry on the Wizards practice center, you mentioned retail shop sales and the Barcelona soccer team's effort in that area.

So I thought this was apt and interesting:

At 10:36 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

ha yes it was Real Madrid, not Barcelona.

But similar concept and size.

RE: car2go, good followup

RE: backup cameras. They are being mandated as required safety equipment -- not sure when that kicks in -- might even be as early as this year.

In general the profusion of electronic safety equipment has not translated well into the city. Automatic braking would be nice. Backup cameras are usually designed well for parking spaces -- not so much for street parking.

At 12:21 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

as someone who isn't the world's best driver, I find that back up cameras help even with parallel parking, but yes, it makes sense that they are more focused on parking lot type activity.

Frankly, I think they were created in part because of "back up" deaths like little kids behind cars, etc., so what you say makes perfect sense.

... Real Madrid, ok, I'll try to find some pictures. Looking at the article cite I sent, I was thinking, hmm, a wizards-capitals one couldn't include a replica of Stanley Cup...

about car2go, the company representative complimented you on your knowledge about the status of smartcar sales in the US, intimating I think that's partly why they are being discontinued in some cities.

It's unfortunate that while we're ok as a market for variations on big vehicles (SUVs, trucks, etc.) we don't seem to be able to support a truly small car as a specialty city vehicle. The reality is that it doesn't matter for most cities, as they have been given over to the (big) car. You have to be space constrained to be willing to go utilitarian.

At 1:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Smart car is not a smart choice for any reason other than ease of parking in urban situations where the short length is a benefit. You can easily get a car with better MPG, more seats, more utility, less cost, more reliable, and an infinitely better transmission that doesn't jerk you around like a 16 y.o. just learning how to stick shift.

At 2:18 PM, Anonymous Charlie said...

Fun fact — smart car is the only French can buy in the US.

Real Madrid:

Much like the MCI/Verizon/Cap one center, stadium does a decent job intergrating into urban street.

At 7:20 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

the new smartcars have great transmissions. The first generation did not.

The electric smartcar is pretty amazing.

That being said, a small car with "more room" is an advantage.

they have a 4 door version, but I don't think it was ever made available in the US, because of the failure to get much in the way of take up with the 2 door.

But it's about 3 feet longer than the 2 door, at 11.5 feet (roughly).

At 2:35 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

@charlie, Toyota Yaris hatchback variant, another low-demand subcompact with an archaic transmission, is made in France.


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