Hundreds of mini-sized blue and white vehicles will appear at curbside parking spots throughout Minneapolis in coming weeks as part of a unique car-sharing partnership with the city.
Customers of Car2Go will be able to check out the vehicles at a specified rate and leave them at any legal onstreet parking space in the city.
The program, combined with recent expansions of existing car-sharing services, means the number of car-sharing vehicles in Minneapolis will soon be 10 to 12 times larger than it was months ago, according to Atif Saeed, the city's parking systems manager. "It's a huge quantum leap," Saeed said.
This is the first time the city has allowed car sharing at its parking spots — car-sharing programs now operate largely in parking ramps — and they hope the two-year pilot program will persuade more people to ditch their personal vehicles.
City officials are in final negotiations with Car2Go, a subsidiary of German-based Smart car manufacturer Daimler. The company, headquartered in Austin, Texas, will begin rolling out about 250 of the cars on the night of Sept. 14.
Existing car-sharing services, including Zipcar and locally based Hourcar, are also seeking permission from property owners to use designated on-street spots.
Car2Go's "one-way" model is somewhat different from the other services, however. Rather than picking up and returning the vehicles from the same location, customers use their smartphones to find the nearest car and drop it off wherever is convenient.
Paul DeLong, the company's chief marketing officer, said the market will determine where the cars become most popular.
"The whole idea is this free-floating, kind of natural gravitation that cars just happen to show up where people work, where they play and where they socialize," he said. "You can't do it with 10 cars. In order for a system like this to work, you have to go en masse. Immediately."
City documents say the company must roll out at least 350 vehicles. In order to recover lost revenue from the parking meters, the city will charge Car2Go about $1,600 per car.
Car2Go's rates are higher than other services — $.38 per minute or $14 an hour plus tax — since drivers can stop their reservation when they park at their destination. Users also do not have to pay for gas. Hourcar's hourly rate is about $8 an hour, by comparison.
After paying a one-time $35 sign-up fee, Car2Go's users are sent a member card that allows them to unlock the cars. A touch screen inside the car lets them enter a PIN, navigate, control the radio and contact a company representative.
Minneapolis will be the eighth U.S. city to use Car2Go. Others include Washington, D.C., Portland, Seattle and Denver.