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Northwest Car-Sharing Olympics

Portland and Vancouver vie for the gold while Seattle lags behind.

Zipcar. Car2Go. Getaround. Modo. Throughout the Northwest, car-sharing services are taking off. Residents in major Northwest cities who are looking to live a “car-lite” lifestyle—but who still need to get behind the wheel from time to time—now have a number of options for shared vehicles.

Car-sharing services offer abundant, convenient vehicle options, distributed widely around major metro regions—so that drivers have easy access to cars when they need them, without shouldering all the costs of ownership.

As car sharing catches on and states pass legislation to remove barriers, companies are vying to enter new markets. In this Northwest free-for-all, which big city is taking home the gold?

The Emerald City seems set on the bronze: it’s got one good car-sharing option, but fewer companies, vehicles, and pricing options than either of its neighbors. It’s a tight race between Vancouver and Portland for the gold…but in the end, we have to give Vancouver the nod.

Here are the details.

Seattle

For Seattle, Zipcar is currently the only car-sharing contender. On any given day, you can find dozens of cars available, depending on how many cars have already been reserved.

The model is simple: check out a car at an hourly or daily rate, and return it to the spot you found it by the end of your reservation. Here’s a snapshot of Zipcar availability on a recent weekday:

Zipcar entered Seattle in 2007 by buying out Flexcar, which was established all the way back in 2000. And now, with over a decade of experience in the city, Zipcar has developed a deep user base—one that demonstrates car sharing’s appeal, but may actually be scaring off other potential entrants into the city’s car-sharing marketplace.

Vancouver

Vancouver, BC, also has Zipcar:

While Zipcar’s presence in Vancouver may not be as strong as in Seattle, Vancouverites have several other options for shared cars. Car2Go, recently launched by Daimler Benz, puts a spin on the Zipcar model: renters can drop off vehicles anywhere within the “home area,” rather than returning them to a specific location.

This twist is both liberating and economical, allowing drivers to take trips within the home area without reserving (or paying for) a car during the time they aren’t driving. And it also makes it easier to switch back and forth between cars and transit. (If you drive a vehicle outside its home area, Car2Go works similar to Zipcar: you pay by the minute, hour, or day until you check the car back in somewhere inside the home area.)

Based on information on its website, Car2Go vehicles appear to be pretty abundant and widely distributed within the home area:

But one factor which gives Vancouver the edge in car sharing: Modo Co-op (formerly The Co-operative Auto Network), a robust peer-to-peer auto-sharing network…

Update 7/31/2012: Modo is cooperatively owned but is not peer-to-peer—so its rental model has much in common with services like Zipcar and Car2Go.

Portland

Like Seattle, the Rose City has Zipcar.

Here’s many (but not all) of the Zipcar vehicles available in Portland:

And like Vancouver, Portland has Car2Go cars which can be checked back in anywhere within Portland’s “home area”.

Thanks to a recent clarification to Oregon insurance law, peer-to-peer car-sharing pioneer Getaround recently entered Portland’s short-term sharing market. (Full disclosure: John Atcheson, a Sightline board member, works for Getaround.) In just a short while, Getaround has attracted a significant user base in Portland, but it isn’t yet as mature as Vancouver’s Modo.

The rankings

How do the different car-sharing services stack up on pricing? As it turns out, they’re all fairly comparable. There’s no clear “winner” on price, but each service has unique pricing features that might make them attractive to some segment of the car-sharing market.

Zipcar charges between $6.80 and $8 an hour, and $66.30-$78 per day depending on how much time you commit to: committing to a larger amount gives one a lower hourly or daily rate. There is also a $25 signup fee for all members and a $60 annual fee for casual drivers. (The annual fee is waived if you commit to a certain amount of driving.) Click the links for Zipcar rates in Seattle, Portland, and Vancouver.

Car2Go in Portland and Vancouver offers a 35 cents per minute rates (with a maximum of $12.99 per hour and $65.99 per day) and the ability to check cars back in anywhere within the “home area.” This makes short distance trips within the home area more economical than other services because you can check the car back in and only pay for the time actually spent driving. Having checked the car back in, the duration of your stay can be as long as you wish without incurring additional charges.

Getaround has different rates depending on the type of vehicle you select. When we looked, we found that out of 70 vehicles available, 52 of them were for $8 or less, with prices typically ranging between $7 and $8 per hour—quite comparable to Zipcar’s rates.

Modo Carshare Coop offers non-member prices at $7.50 an hour and per day prices at $60. But if you pay a one-time, $500 membership “share purchase”, you pay just $3 per hour, plus a per-km price that becomes more generous as you drive longer distances. The maximum daily charge for members is $36 not counting mileage charges. One great feature of membership is that you don’t pay the hourly rate for hours between 11pm and 7am—which adds flexibility for overnight stays. Modo also offers perks to members—most significantly a 15 percent discount on transit passes, worth as much as $234 a year.

So how do the three cities stack up on car sharing? After reviewing the options, we have to give the gold to Vancouver. It’s got three major car sharing services, offering wide geographic coverage and lots of vehicles. And while Portland’s Getaround clearly has tremendous potential, Vancouver’s Modo Coop has had more time to mature. So for the moment, Vancouver’s the place to be if you’re looking for some short-term wheels that won’t break the bank.

Seattle is clearly in third: Zipcar offers a very good choice and a number of vehicles, but for now it’s the only option for shared cars. To catch up with its sister cities, Seattle’s quickest path is almost certainly peer-to-peer car sharing. After all, the average vehicle sits idle most of the day—which means that there are plenty of Seattle car owners with vehicles to rent.

Now that (as we recommended last year) the Washington State has passed a bill (HB 2384) that clarified insurance regulations for personal car sharing, the Seattle market offers a fantastic opportunity for an enterprising peer-to-peer service. (And yes, given that we’re Seattle residents, it’s fair to consider this begging.) Seattle is also a potential market for Car2Go, but Car2Go has not announced any plans to expand yet. Seattle could also potentially strike out on its own and start a car-sharing service—like Paris did with its Autolib service. Until any of these things happen, Seattle will find itself staring jealously from the side of the road as its two sister cities drive past.

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Comments

  1. Dan says:

    Correction – Modo in Vancouver is a regular (albeit non-profit) car sharing entity, offering much the same service as Zipcar though at a lower price. They do not currently offer peer-to-peer carsharing.

    As far as I know, the only canadian p2p car sharing is in quebec (http://www.communauto.com/pep/index_ENG.html) and has yet to launch.

    • portrait Alex Broner says:

      Thanks for catching that, the post has been updated.

  2. Lisa Corriveau says:

    I was going to correct the info on Modo too, but I see Dan’s beaten me to it!

    • portrait Alex Broner says:

      Thanks Lisa, the post has been updated to reflect this.

  3. RB says:

    this analysis is incomplete and the rush to crown a winner, premature (I know it is Olympic season and we love to compare each of the three cities at nauseam). How about a simple analysis of total number of car sharing cars in each city divided by total population to calculate a car sharing density plus the total number of aggregated uses per month, again divided by population to calculate a usage factor. The number of cars and number of trips per capita will tell us more about the efficacy of car sharing and acceptance in comparison to cities that don’t have car sharing.

    • Eric Hess says:

      Thanks for the feedback, RB. Some car-sharing companies keep their number of vehicles as a trade secret, so we don’t have the data needed to run a per-capita comparison. Also, peer-to-peer networks are hard to measure because the available stock constantly varies.

      • portrait Alex Broner says:

        I would add that we did look at the number of cars the best we could and that what numbers we could find combined with a visual count of the “snapshot” of cars checked in is what informed our analysis. While these snapshots capture just one moment in time, its very clear for example that from a quantitative measure Seattle is in third place: Zipcar alone does not have enough vehicles parked in Seattle to reach parity with Portland and Vancouver which each have three car sharing services (including zipcar), each with numerous vehicles. The comparison of Portland and Vancouver was more difficult but at the end of the day Modo Car sharing is ahead of Getaround and that is enough to give Vancouver the gold. Of course this might change in the future as Getaround expands. Maybe we’ll do a followup during the next Olympics and see what has changed in that time.

  4. vecturist says:

    As a very satisfied modo member in Vancouver, I can attest to the quality and affordability of the service. They were definitely ahead of their time, starting over 15 years ago! And the added bonus is that it’s run as a member-owned cooperative, so it’s a democratic organization that is accountable to the local community in which it operates. Because it’s a co-op, when I tell people about modo I simply say that I “co-own 300 cars”.

  5. Reena says:

    Another factor to consider is the coverage of shared vehicles outside of the city’s core. Modo does this well, thanks in part to Vancouver’s rapid transit “skytrain” system – cars can be placed at skytrain stations. Neither Car2Go nor ZipCar operate in any outlying region of Vancouver, but Modo has cars in the suburbs, which your maps do not show.

    • Reena says:

      Sorry. Correction. Your Modo map shows the suburban cars!

  6. portrait Steve Gutmann says:

    Eric-

    Your rankings may be in need of an upgrade…!

    As of today (August 13, 2012), there are already 231 vehicles posted on Getaround’s Portland website. Not only does this make ours (I work for Getaround) the largest car sharing network in Portland, but it also makes us the most geographically diverse: we have cars not only in close-in “Zip2go” neighborhoods, but also in places like Sandy, Troutdale, Gresham, Hayden Island, Scappoose, Wilsonville, Lake Oswego, West Linn and Oregon City. Many of these cars aren’t yet finding renters; however, a surprising number of them are.

    I use all 3 services here in Portland, and they all serve overlapping niches. Getaround is ideal for anything from a 2-hour run or errands to longer-duration (4+ hours) rentals. Our service also offers Zipcar and Car2go members an ultra-convenient and inexpensive way to get out of town for a long weekend.

    Go Portland!

    • Clark Williams-Derry says:

      Thanks for the input, Steve!!!

      It’s surprising how quickly things can change. I don’t know if the Getaround pickings were slim the day we looked, or if the service has taken off quickly and added lots of new vehicles. I suspect it’s the latter…which shows the power of peer-to-peer car sharing! Since there are so many privately owned cars out there—many or perhaps most of which are parked 23 hours a day—peer-to-peer car sharing can scale up incredibly quickly.

      So is Getaround coming to Seattle any time soon? How ’bout Vancouver?? (Pretty please…)

  7. portrait Steve Gutmann says:

    My previous post should have been addressed to Alex and Clark. Sorry ’bout that.

  8. portrait Steve Gutmann says:

    Clark-

    The network in Portland is, indeed, ramping up quickly. Just a month ago we had fewer than 100 live cars.

    Why so fast? Owners have full control over whether and to whom they rent their car ( renters request up to 5 cars at a time; owners can either accept or decline; the first owner to reply affirmatively gets the business), so signing up a car is a simple decision. Some owners initially rent their car only to 1-2 friends/neighbours/work colleagues, and expand their customer base slowly, as their comfort level rises.

    With a large number of “zero parking” developments coming online in Portland, the level of interest in “car lite” lifestyles base on walking, cycling, transit and carsharing continues to grow.

    Getaround hasn’t yet “turned on” the Seattle or Vancouver service areas, but anyone in the US and Canada can register their car and thereby “vote” for their burg to become the next Getaround city. Austin recently launched, and you’ll find a couple hundred cars available in Chicago, as well.

    Where’s next? You can help decide. Sign up your car to vote!

  9. portrait Steve Gutmann says:

    Another quick update:

    Getaround now has 328 vehicles available in the Portland area. So in less than two months we’ve added another 90+ vehicles.

    Austin, TX and Chicago, IL also have nearly 300 Getaround vehicles apiece, after operating for only a few months.

    Earnings vary widely. I accept rental requests for my family’s car (www.getaround.com/quicksilver) about 1-2 times a week, and we net about $20/rental. It’ll earn us well over a thousand bucks this year.

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