Dude, Where's My Car2Go?
Strange timing for Car2Go fleet switch, boundary expansion
Well, there's good news, and there's not-so-good news.
The good news is that Car2Go Austin will be expanding its "geo-fence" – the boundaries of its operating area – next week, and the expansion pushes the existing border into new areas of town that will make the program more accessible to an estimated 74,000 folks living within the new zones. Concurrent with this change, Car2Go will not only add 100 Smart cars to its fleet of 200 Smart ForTwo vehicles, but it will replace the existing fleet with brand-spanking-new Daimler Car2Go Editions, designed and manufactured specifically for the car-share program.
So, that's the good news.
The not-so-good news? This transition occurs between midnight on Friday, March 18, and 5pm on Sunday, March 20. "During this time," according to the company's press release, "the Austin network of car2go will be temporarily unavailable for use." For many Car2Go members, these dates may make no difference, but for anyone planning on using the system during South by Southwest, the time frame spans the final – and most intensive – weekend of the 10-day Conference.
What is Diamler AG thinking?
"For us, the shift to our new technology affects all Car2Go locations, globally, not just Austin. The changes being introduced – the expansion of the boundaries and the entirely new telematics system – requires an entire system change," explains Paul DeLong, Car2Go's head of North American sales and marketing. "Those dates were assigned. We know this is a huge logistical undertaking, and our main concern is making this impact positive while minimizing the inconvenience to our members."
Diamler based its entire North American car-share program headquarters here in Austin, currently the only U.S. city where Car2Go operates. Surely they've heard of SXSW? Did the Austin office address this?
"Initially, yes," says DeLong. "South by Southwest is such an iconic festival in Austin, and we are trying to limit the impact on users by starting at midnight and doing the exchange as quickly and seamlessly and transparently as we can get up to speed – hopefully so that people using the program for [SXSW] can get back into those cars."
Austin's relationship with Car2Go launched in November 2009 with a pilot program in cahoots with the city of Austin. City employees got access to the 200-car fleet essentially to beta test the car-share model. In May 2010, Car2Go opened up to Austin at-large. Since the service launched, the program's 15,000 members have logged more than 500,000 miles in more than 150,000 rentals (an average of 4,000 rentals per week). According to the company's press release, "15 percent of the driving population above the age of 18 in the existing operating area are car2go members."
The expanded operating area (see map, left) pushes the southern border from Oltorf to Ben White, while Highway 183 will now serve as the northern boundary beyond the existing Koenig and 51st Street limits. The Eastside sees expansion on the north (Manor Road) and south (Montopolis) tips, rounding out the already existing 183 border, and the Far West/Mesa area gets included to the west.
While the new fleet of Smarts looks almost exactly like the original fleet, each car's roof is equipped with a 100-watt solar panel that will collect, store, and provide energy for the car's battery and interior ventilation system, which regulates the temperature inside the car (especially during our notorious Texas summers). The panel will also juice the Car2Go's onboard telematic satellite system, a central component of the upgrade. Previous Smart ForTwos used by Car2Go were retrofitted with the necessary hardware, navigation system, and touchscreen. Now, the entire system is self-contained: The new fleet will roll out with the current technology embedded and can be upgraded via satellite more easily going forward. Future developments include the potential to totally customize, store, and launch unique settings for each user.
The new cars will need to be physically exchanged, a potentially tricky prospect given that Car2Go is not a station-based car-sharing system – the old cars will likely be spread out all over town because members can pick them up and leave them anywhere within the operating area. Car2Go plans to dispatch 50 or so "relocation team" drivers to hit the streets precisely at midnight, Friday, March 18, and trade new vehicles for old ones in the exact locations they were parked at 11:59pm, Thursday, March 17. That should be interesting, especially Downtown, just as SXSW Music is hitting its stride.
"We're using close-in staging areas and strategizing as much as we can in advance to quickly get the new vehicles into the same parking slots, ASAP," says DeLong. Car2Go Austin intends to follow its own transition live online with photo updates on the company website, Facebook, and Twitter, and invites the public to watch this changing of the tiny-car guard as it occurs, live.
The fleet will also require an entire changeover of the current card system: The old white membership cards will not work in the new vehicles. Current Car2Go members can expect to see new blue cards that are compatible with the new technology in the mail this week.
"We're looking at this transition as something we'll never have to do again. The new telematics will make future upgrades possible through satellite technology," says DeLong. "And while, yes, it's right at the peak of [SXSW], we know that a large portion of our membership will be out of town for spring break. We see the Monday after spring break as the launch of our new improved Car2Go 2.0."
For more on the Car2Go transition, see www.car2go.com. The call center will have extended hours during the transition: 877/488-4224.