If you ask city residents of a big city like Washington DC, it is likely that you will hear the headaches of high insurance costs (fifth highest in the country at $1866 a year), expensive parking ($10-$25 an hour, $50 a day), garage costs (around $2400 a year) and having to deal with DMV processes like tags and car registration. With several green options now available for Washington DC residents, why not try a service like car2go or Zipcar?
You may have seen the tiny toy blue and white cars on the streets of DC and other US cities and wanted to drive them. Car2go, from Daimler, is a new service now available in most US cities as well as in Europe and Canada. Car2Go is a rent by the minute, two person Smart Car rental program that allows one way rental and free parking. So how do you get started?
If you are in Washington DC you can use car2go. Other US cities are San Diego, Austin, Portland, Miami, South Bay (LA), Minneapolis, Columbus, and Denver. Internationally, car2go is available in many cities in Germany, Amsterdam, Lyon, London, Birmingham and Milan. To get started, you go to their website and sign up for their service. The cost of a car2go is 38 cents plus tax a minute and it includes all costs such as parking, fuel and fees. There is a one time sign up fee of $35 plus tax. For an hour it comes to $13.99 and for a day it is $72.99. Fees are charged to your linked credit card on file. A prepaid gas card is in the car and if the tank is less than ¼ full and you fill it up, you get 20 free minutes that are available for 30 days. These free minutes and free parking are big draws. Insurance is included. Fees are charged for extraneous events such as smoking in cars or lost documents. To reserve a car, you need to use a computer or a smartphone app or just pick it up directly on the street. You can reserve up to 30 minutes in advance. You open the car with your member card, use it and return it by parking in a designated space. Note that for DC and other cities, car2go can only be parked in the “home area” and cannot be parked everywhere in the city. Here is the home area for Washington DC.
Another popular option these days is Zipcar, a car sharing service available in the US, UK, Canada and Spain. With Zipcar too, you sign up for membership, reserve online or on an app, and unlock your car using your member card. However there are clear differences between the two and the choice is fairly simple, based on your habits. If you like to decide at the spur of the moment whether you need to use a car or not, if you don’t spend a lot of time driving, and if you prefer a one way trip (for example you want to take the metro to the grocery and only want a car for your trip back since you have a lot of bags) then car2go is the car for you. If you like guaranteed car availability, are likely to be driving for awhile, prefer a wide range of cars to choose from, and know your travel arrangements in advance or are looking for a moving van, Zipcar is likely to work better for you.
Given the above, car2go works better for most city residents. If you are single or a couple with one or no children, and are living in the city, where your needs are typically less predictable, car2go may be the choice for you. On the other hand for families with two or more children and living in the suburbs of a major city, needing a high degree of predictability, Zipcar may work better. One consideration with both cars is that the fees for improper use are pretty steep. Those who are interested should read this section carefully to avoid surprises. For example Zipcar has late fees of $50 per hour with a minimum charge of $50 plus regular hourly charges. Another is insurance. Both companies provide basic liability insurance ($750-$1000 deductible), and Zipcar removes the deductible requirement for around $9 per month. For more details, here is a 2013 comparison I found helpful on the Seattle Transit Blog.
If you want to give either a try, look out on social media as there are usually some pretty good deals to get started. Feel free to post some recent offers below if you have any. UPDATED 9/29: Here is a special deal for Examiner readers from Car2go: promo code car2golife - it gets you $10 exclusive membership & 30 mins of Drive Time.