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Updated Sunday, January 13, 2013 at 12:16 AM

Car2Go comes to Seattle

By Mike Lindblom
Seattle Times transportation reporter

A car-sharing venture called Car2Go has arrived in Seattle, deploying 330 miniature, blue-and-white Smart Cars. Members can unlock any car along the street, drive across town from Greenwood to the Central Area, for instance, then drop it off curbside, until another user comes along. "Experience spontaneity on wheels," the website says.

The initial territory stretches from North 130th Street to South Lander Street, but CEO Nicholas Cole said last week the area is likely to expand. Seattle City Council members have asked for Car2Go access farther south, or at least near light-rail stations in Rainier Valley.

Car2Go operates in Portland, San Diego, Austin, Texas, Washington, D.C., Miami, Canadian cities Vancouver, Calgary and Toronto and Europe.

Users receive a key card. Tap the card on a windshield, and a reader unlocks the doors. A dashboard screen provides instructions and navigation displays. The fee is 38 cents a minute, with a maximum of $13.99 per hour.

Drivers can park free at meters and in residential zones, but not in Seattle's many peak-time bus lanes, even midday. Car2Go will pay the city $1,330 per car per year for parking.

Members locate cars using a phone app or online map. Reservations are allowed only 15 minutes in advance, so cars are readily available. As of Saturday, there were 240 cars parked and ready, including 12 in the University District and nine at South Lake Union.

The competing Zipcar car-sharing firm covers a broader territory, including Tacoma and the Eastside, offering larger cars reserved and picked up at Zipcar's own parking stalls.

Its president, Mark Norman has said Car2Go is actually complementary. Cole agrees. "They [Zipcar] probably see more one-, two-, three-hour rentals; we see rentals of 30 to 35 minutes," Cole said.

On a test drive from South Lake Union to the Chinatown International District, the gasoline-powered Smart Car handled lane changes deftly but hesitated climbing Spring Street alongside the Seattle Central Library.

Car2Go is a division of Daimler and presents a way to monetize the manufacture of its Smart Cars. Cole downplays that characterization, saying Daimler's goal is to create innovative-mobility products — in this case, targeting young professionals or empty-nesters who dislike the hassle or cost of owning their own vehicle.

"They know more and more people are moving into city settings, urban centers. It's logical that people aren't going to own a car," Cole said.

This article includes material from Times reporter Lynn Thompson.

Mike Lindblom: 206-515-5631 or mlindblom@seattletimes.com.


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