Getting Around Austin: Car2Go

Austin car2go driver rental TexasKate Messer / The Austin Chronicle

The light changes from green to yellow. I pull my pint-sized car to the front of the lane under the light, on this, my inaugural drive in a Smart ForTwo – my first Car2Go rental. In my periphery, I notice that a similarly wee car has slipped into the lane beside me. As if choreographed, the other driver and I turn to look at each other at exactly the same moment. He gives me an affirming nod and raises his fist in solidarity. He, too, is in a Car2Go rental.

We’re a cult: the cult of the tiny car. We zip around town and take the parking spaces you can’t fit into. And look! We even have ourown parking spaces.

Just more than a year ago, these rolling Teletubbies of the automotive set were first seen carousing around Austin as part of the city’s pilot program with Daimler AG’s Car2Go. In May 2010, the program opened up to the general public, and by the end of summer, I was a full-fledged member.

While membership certainly has its privileges, it also has the kinks of any new beta system. The Car2Go website and FAQ are helpful, but they are somewhat streamlined in that sleek European manner often confounding to us American babies in need of a hand-hold. Here are a few tips beyond the Car2go FAQ to keep you off the curb.

Enrollment

Car2Go has offered free memberships (a waiver of the one-time $35 registration fee) a few times since beginning the program this past May. Personally, I didn’t wait, and I still think that $35 is a deal. However, if you are not signed up by the time Car2Go runs the next offer, I gently suggest you consider it when it’s free – if for nothing more than the access to an affordable and convenient local rental when your own car is in the shop.

Getting Started

After enrollment and a driving-record check, members receive their cards in the mail. At that point, you may begin using those hot li’l blue-and-white babies. Get online or use the Car2Go app on your iPhone to locate a car near you. Go to the car. Hold your membership card up to the little flashing box in the lower corner of the driver’s window. You will hear a click. Get in, and follow the instructions on the touch screen to begin your rental. The screen will ask you for your code, tell you where to get the key, and how to proceed. So, proceed already!

Customer Call Center: 877/488-4224

Three electric tones, a very Mrs. Moneypenny voice announcing “Welcome to Smart,” and the immediate lull of distractingly pleasant hold music – this is what greets Car2Go members upon initiating communication with the Car2Go customer call center, located in the Netherlands. Next comes an encounter with a friendly call staffer whose tongue is tipped in the golden honeydew of Old World native-speak (usually Mother England, but generally a European grab bag). If they ask you for your “family name,” they are asking for your last name.

Pricing Policy: Do the Math

Car2Go rentals run by the minute (35 cents per minute), but hours ($12.99) and days ($65.99) are discounted. If you go over 37 minutes, you might as well keep the car for an hour. Likewise, if you keep the rental open more than five hours, you might as well take it for the day.

Parking

Sometimes telematics are touchy. Sometimes if you park under the branches of a sprawling live oak or too close to a power line or too close to the boundary of the program’s “geo-fence,” you may not be able to close out your rental. Anecdotal evidence (a quick verbal sampling of some C2G pals) suggests parking is one of the first and most recurring frustrations in dealing with a C2G rental. Don’t freak out. Just move the car up or back to see if you can pick up that satellite signal. If you still can’t close out, use the internal phone (accessed through the touch screen) and get one of those charming Europeans on the line to guide you.

Reservations

My informal sampling also determines the reservation system to be a confusing pickle. What the FAQ section doesn’t tell you is this: You may reserve a Car2Go a full 24 hours in advance. Technically, you’re not necessarily reserving a specific car – someone else can take the one you have in mind if there is another one within 300 yards. More precisely, your reservation guarantees that a car will be available for you within a designated area at the time you specify – a quite reasonable policy. Also helpful: Your reservation window actually begins 15 minutes before your appointment time and gives you another 15 minutes of leeway after, in case you’re running late.

Mapping and Orienteering

As with any occasion involving mass transit, it is best to use your time spent with Car2Go as an excuse to hone your mapping skills. OnStar, GPS, and smart phones have made us stupid. Your Car2Go experience will be greatly enhanced if you promise not to become too reliant on any one electronic system that keeps you from knowing the ins and outs of Austin city streets. Your internal compass is a valuable asset in the search for your next vehicle. (For this dumb, non-smart-phone user and all-around obstinate Luddite, having a truck-drivin’ pappy who taught me to read maps and atlases at the tender age of 4 has come in very handy indeed.)

Refunds/Credits

Do not be afraid to make mistakes as you learn how to activate and close out your rental. And don’t be afraid of the satellite technology that, while quite reliable, is not always 100% on point. Do not hesitate to call the call center to request assistance. If they determine it appropriate, they will often offer you a refund for part of the time spent working out your frustrations.

Troubleshooting

Likewise, do not fear working out what is essentially a beta system. We are a test market, and I have found the entire C2G crew to be sensitive to learning curves and confusions. Don’t fear your ability to figure stuff out; on the other hand, don’t fear a phone call to the call center. Or two. Or 12.

Updates via E-mail

Read them. They will tell you clarifying things – like the nuances of the reservation system and how to refuel the car – in greater detail than the website does. We heartily recommend that our Car2Go buddies consider posting these member updates right on the doggone website that we members use pretty much every day anyway.

Intentionality

Learn to be deliberate in your car use. Honestly, it’s in your best interest, as well as the planet’s. Crass consumption is so Bush-era. If you allow intention to determine your car use, you are less likely to squander it. Having to consult maps and the clock lessens that feeling of entitled gas-guzzing that is like a second skin to us Americans. While you’re at it, take a moment to ponder how these newfound freedoms can make other areas of your life – love, patience, diet, consumption, time management – squeal with high-pitched intention.

Original Article: http://www.austinchronicle.com/news/2010-12-31/car2go-cheat-sheet/

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