Despite some valiant attempts by ZipCar and Enterprise, car-sharing in New York has had too many negatives attached to win over residents. Mandatory round-trip restrictions and prohibitive membership fees have made ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft the choice of many millennial New Yorkers reliant on public transportation.
Daimler, parent company of Mercedes-Benz, has aimed to change that with the Car2Go service that is now available in several U.S. cities and expanded from Brooklyn to Queens in late August. Running with a fleet of Smart Fortwo cars on a proprietary app, the service is built to solve some of the inter-borough travel issues New Yorkers face.
Autos Cheat Sheet was in Jackson Heights in early September to see how Car2Go fared in a trip from Queens’ culinary hotbed to the subway stop at North 7th and Bedford Avenue in Brooklyn, gateway to our East Village home off the L. What we found was a car-sharing service that offers convenience and rapid transit at a low price. If you brace yourself for a bit of a bumpy ride, Car2Go serves as a green solution to local travel conundrums without a care for parking snafus.
Convenience locating, unlocking, and mobilizing
While enjoying generous servings of Argentinian parilla at Chivito D’Oro, we surveyed the area between Jackson Heights and Woodside on the Car2Go app. We saw an available car about three-quarters of a mile off, just under the Brooklyn-Queens expressway, and made our reservation that would hold for 30 minutes. Hoofing it over at a leisurely pace, we had to cancel the hold and restart it. (While we were allowed to do so, Car2Go members typically cannot do so after reserving a car until two hours lapse.)
Once we arrived, we found the Smart car we had reserved under the BQE overpass. The car was relatively new, with few visible marks on the exterior and minimal dust and debris inside. By acknowledging we were there and ready to start the rental, the car unlocked and greeted us with an illuminated touch screen. We answered questions about the cleanliness and condition of the car. Then we took the key positioned to the right of the screen from its special place and put it into the ignition. We got on our way using the built-in navigation system.
We have used better navigation systems before — in fact, they all might be better — but after some doing, we had our location set and made our way onto the expressway. Minor traffic slowed us down, but we briskly made it the six miles to our destination, the trip lasting about 20 minutes. Once we hit Greenpoint on the highway, the car alerted us that we were now in the Car2Go zone and could park wherever we pleased on the street.
Reaching Williamsburg a few minutes later, we found a small spot and got our little Smart Fortwo inside without issue. The cross-borough trip could hardly have been quicker or less stressful, especially with good company in the car.
Affordable and green, if a little bumpy
We made the trip in 22 minutes at a cost of $11, subtracting a few minutes for the confusion we experienced in our first time using the service. Sizing up the six-mile trip from Jackson Heights to Williamsburg on other transportation options, you see the advantage Car2Go offers Brooklyn and Queens residents. It would take about an hour to make that trip on public transportation and cost $5.50 for two people. In a taxi, the trip costs about $18 before tip. On Lyft and Uber, the price ranges between $15 and $20.
Car2Go has them beat by a great deal, even when you are factoring in the $35 registration fee. (Trips are $0.41 per minute plus $1.20 in driver fees.) These Smart cars, which offer about 35 miles per gallon combined, are the greener options because there is no round trip and there is no cab driver circling around looking for a fare in a less efficient vehicle. Cars only move when you move them to a precise destination. Furthermore, with only two seats, there are ideal for mobility when two people ride. There is no wasted space on the road or when parking on the street. Storage space, of course, is limited.
With a fleet of Smart Fortwos, Car2Go is far from perfect. Bette Davis’s famous line from All About Eve sums up the biggest problem.
However, if you are avoiding the highway, you will have a smoother (and slower) ride. Car2Go’s one-way trips offer New Yorkers a solid car-sharing solution that is more than reasonable. Ideally, you will make trips with two people along for the ride. It’s a welcome addition to the scene that will improve mobility in the boroughs without adding much to congestion. (The benefits of driving yourself cannot be overstated, either.)
In other words, it offers numerous advantages over Uber and existing car-sharing services. We’ll see if the model can continue expanding, as Uber has been able to do without restriction in New York City.
Disclosure: Car2Go provided Autos Cheat Sheet with a demonstration of the service as well as complimentary drive time in order to evaluate its car-sharing service in New York City.