August 16, 2011
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Manufacturer’s web site
Article and photos by Gerry Frechette
Vancouver, British Columbia – Being a city with no shortage of officially encouraged alternatives to the privately-owned, single-occupant vehicle, it is no surprise that Vancouver was chosen by Mercedes-Benz Canada to be the first Canadian city to have the Car2Go free-floating car sharing service, joining Ulm and Hamburg in Germany, and Austin, Texas.
There were already two car sharing outfits in Vancouver, but the Car2Go program differentiates itself with unique attributes. The Car2Go member can access a car “on demand” within the current service area in and near downtown without a reservation, find the nearest car with the aid of GPS technology, drive it anywhere and be billed by the minute, and leave it in a designated Car2Go parking spot or in any available public parking space including “permit only” parking within the defined area – and walk away.
The process involved for joining the program is pretty well laid out on the web site at Car2Go.com, including the necessity of arranging for the government insurance agency, ICBC, to forward a copy of your driving record; but what we wanted to know is how the member actually interacts with the cars on a day-to-day basis, and what technology is incorporated to ensure a smooth, worry-free experience for both sides of the relationship. To that end, we spent half a day with a car, looking at all that is involved with driving one.
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The Smart Fortwo Car2Go editions are specially designed for car sharing. They are fitted with solar cell roofs, designed to ensure that the telematics system and the windshield card reader, which is always on, don’t drain the battery. The service was launched on June 18, 2011 with what was to have been 225 vehicles, but several were heavily damaged during the Stanley Cup riots a few days prior.
Once the new member jumps through all the application hoops, he or she is sent a Radio Frequency ID card in the mail. The card can be used to put into service any car that is available. To find a car, members phone the call centre, or go on the web site car2go.com and click on CarFinder. There are apps available for smart phones, too, that will locate a car and allow you to make immediate reservations. At this writing, there is no official Car2Go app, but there are several third-party apps by independent developers for iPhone and Android. If you have forgotten where you have parked, you can enter your reservation code, and the app will show you where your vehicle is, based on the GPS coordinates. You can get a list of all the official parking spaces, too. And, if you happen to be walking by a car that is available, you can just take it and go. In other words, the service is location-based, so it is available when and where you want it. As soon as you know you need a car, you can look to find the closest one. The GPS locating system allows any car to be located wherever it is, even if it isn’t in a designated reserved Car2Go spot.
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