Mark McDermott

Car rental-by-the-minute proposed for South Bay

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Car2Go hopes to come to El Segundo and the rest of the South Bay. Photo courtesy Car2Go

A new kind of car rental service that uses small “smart cars,” charges by the minute, allows users to find a car with a smart phone app and pick up and drop off the vehicle anywhere in the South Bay was proposed at the El Segundo City Council last week.

Car2Go, a technology-based rental service originally launched by the automaker Daimler in Europe four years ago and since expanded to U.S. cities such as Austin, Texas, and Portland, Oregon, intends to offer its services in 35 square miles encompassing nine South Bay cities.

The service is being championed by the South Bay Coalition of Governments (COG) as part of its ongoing efforts to promote local use vehicles, both as a means of reducing air pollution and increasing the mobility of the local workforce.

Car2Go works on a membership basis. Drivers pay a one-time membership fee and are issued a card. If approved in the South Bay, 350 cars would be made available every four to five blocks throughout much of the area. Members walk up to the car, slide their card, open the car, login to the onboard “telematic” system, and drive away – all gas, insurance, street parking and other operational costs are included in fees, which range from 39 cents per minute to $13.99 an hour to $72 per day.

Walter Rosenkranz, Car2Go’s business development manager, told the council that the key to the business is the ability to rent cars on a short-term, point-to-point basis.

“You could pick up a car in El Segundo, drive to Redondo Beach or Torrance, end the rental and walk away and not have to worry about bringing it back to where you picked it up,” Rosenkranz said. “…It’s another mobility option for people who may not have a car, or normally ride a bike or use other forms of transit. If they need to get to work when they don’t have a ride, we can provide that service.”

The other key is the cars themselves.

“They are compact two-seaters ideal for the urban environment, because they are fun to drive and really easy to park,” Rosenkranz said.

Rosenkranz said that the service allows those who don’t have the financial wherewithal for car ownership greater mobility, thus enhancing the local workforce, and also offers benefits to cities such as El Segundo in the form of fewer overall cars on the road and reduced air pollution.

“The studies have shown that each car-share vehicle takes up to 15 personal vehicles off the road,” he said. “As people get comfortable with car share systems, they see they don’t have to own a car. In areas where parking is at a premium and is expensive and they don’t use a car that frequently, they are more apt to get rid of a car if they know they can get around.”

“The big thing is employee opportunity,” he added. “It provides mobility for people that may have limited mobility right now. And again, the environmental impact – it’s a more sustainable form of transportation. These cars are very fuel efficient, they are small, and they don’t take up much space.”

Mayor Carl Jacobson expressed some concern over parking issues. Car2Go would pay parking fees to cities where applicable, but would need a waiver of two-hour time limits in areas where such restrictions exist.

Jacobson wasn’t sure that would work for downtown El Segundo.

“One of the reasons we have that time limit is we have so few spaces on Main Street and we need the turnover, so that presents a little problem,” Jacobson said.

Rosenkranz said such areas are where the Car2Go vehicles tend to turn over fastest.

Council member Suzanne Fuentes expressed enthusiasm for the service.

“I think it’s very exciting,” Fuentes said. “I know that we have programs like this at some nearby schools, such as USC and LMU, and I know people who live in Portland who love it because they just zip around town and do their errands and then drop off their car. And it does take a lot of cars off the road, but it also gives people access to a car – people who can’t afford a car all the time because of insurance and everything else.”

“It’s kind of amazing, really, that we have gotten to this point in technology, and that [Car2Go] and Daimler came together and said, ‘There is a real need out there,’” said Council member Bill Fisher.

Jacki Bacharach, COG executive director, told the City Council that one of the hurdles locally for Car2Go was the “gymnastics” required to get nine different municipalities to approve the service, which will require city permits. The service is proposed for El Segundo, Redondo, Manhattan, and Hermosa Beach, Hawthorne, Lomita, Lawndale, Gardena, and Torrance.

Bacharach said COG had been looking for a car sharing operation for years to increase mobility in the South Bay.

“We realized no car sharing operation, as successful as they are around the world, will come to the South Bay because we are so many jurisdictions,” she said. “So COG put out feelers and said we will help your company…And it will require all nine cities that are involved to approve for this to be successful.”

The Council will revisit the matter at a later date for final approval.

“We’ll be looking at it,” Jacobson said.