Last night I gave Car2go a try. I'm not happy, but there is hope. The service is brand new, and could just have a lot of little problems to work out. Still, I will share all of these problems with you, and that way you may decide whether you like the new Car2go service. For now, I still prefer Zipcar.
Abie went to visit her friends in one of Toronto's very Eastern places: West Hill. Will an intersection help you out? Meadowvale Rd and Kingston Rd. By transit, it takes about 3h to go from here to there. When Abie decided to return, wouldn't you know it, an 18 year old cyclist was almost killed at Kingston Rd and Lawrence Av E. The police had the area cordoned off. She was waiting perhaps an hour before she decided there was not going to be a bus coming to her stop anytime soon. I suggested she wait there, and I would come and get her.
This new Car2go service only goes as far North as Eglinton Av now, so I had to take the subway to find the lot. They also do things differently from other companies: they suggest you have a smart phone, because the cars may be left in any of the city's Green P parking lots in the home area (that is, South of Eglinton). This also means that the car could be anywhere. I went to the lot on Holly St South of Eglinton, and it was a 6-storey car park. Eeep! How will I find the Car2go? One thing can help: this company only uses the SmartCar so they're tiny. I still went to the customer service booth and asked them if they knew where I could find one of the cars I wanted. The guy pointed and said "Someone left one over there!" I was delighted.
No reservation is required. You hold your card against the rectangular sensor. It has an orange display, and tells you what it has to. My car said, "Remove your card." Then, "Validating your member card. Please wait." Thirty seconds later, the lights flash and the doors unlock. The message reads, "Welcome. Your rental has started at 10:37 PM."
I always have some trouble with a new car. Oh, I've been behind the wheel of a smart car once before, but I didn't have the intuition needed to just drive. I will offer this to you: the Smart Car is narrow and short, so it doesn't feel like you are too close to anything! When I was driving a bus or a truck I was always worried about not stopping soon enough, or being too close on the passenger side.
Here are some of the thoughts at the time. "Where did they hide the ignition key?" "There it is! Now where do I put it in?" "Is there a starter button?" The Car2go key is kept to the right of the built-in GPS unit. Wow, the display on that is huge! It's also very bright, and is distracting at night. The key is inserted into the lock between the driver and the passenger seat. There is no starter button (the Mini Cooper has that), so you twist the key clockwise until you hear it use the starter motor. The parking brake lever is in the centre with the gear control.
When you sign up for Car2go you have to watch a video showing you how the car changes gears. It's not fully automatic; you have to take your foot off the gas between each gear change, lest the car slow down in a hesitant kind of way. If you cooperate with the gears, it can be very peppy. In fact, it accelerates to 120kmh easily on the highway, and doesn't give the illusion of going too fast at all. It sounds just as peaceful as it does going 50kmh. Oh, for my American readers: "In fact, it accelerates to 70mph easily on the highway, and ...sounds just as it does going 30mph."
Another video I had to watch was important because it is not obvious how to open (and close) the back. I found it hard to open the passenger door, actually. You see, I couldn't find the button for unlocking the doors! Once the doors are open, the hatch WINDOW is open, but not the back door. There are some buttons I had to find (unsuccessfully) to open that. Closing the hatch window requires closing it gently, then pressing a little more until it clicks properly.
I'm hoping to convey how this car is not like the car you may be used to driving. I have a favourite Zipcar: That Mazda 3. I can also drive the Mazda 5 (less peppy) and the Nissan Sentra. None of them are as confusing as the Smart Car. This is a friendly warning, not an angry rant. In fact, Car2go gives new users 30 minutes of free time. This is probably because I'm not the only one who needs a good orientation.
The hazard button is easy to find, as is the control for the signals and the headlights. Oh yes, the accel and brake are where you expect them to be. The mirrors have a manual control that is far too easy to misalign, but they're easy to find! The air conditioner works well in such a tiny cabin too. The control is calibrated in degrees Celcius. Sorry, you Fahrenheiters.
My first problem happened trying to leave the parking lot. How do you get out without paying the computer? It's supposed to be included. One of the two credit cards is a Green P pass, the other is a Mastercard. The parking card seemed like the right choice. When I inserted it into the machine, it kept the card. Oh no! The customer service (human) took the machine apart and returned the card to me. The actions required of me were not clear. In fact, I'm still not sure how to get the car (legally) out of the Green P lot. I called the 1-855 number, and the office in Iowa has ten people in the call centre ready to help. They had no idea really, but suggested I leave the parking stub (when I bring the car back) in plain sight on the driver's seat.
My trip should have been simple enough. I just had to travel East from where I was to where Abie was. Travelling crowded city streets full of Friday night party goers isn't a good way to travel. There is no fast way from Yonge and Eglinton to Highway 401, but that was where I needed to go. Once on the highway, I would be moving at about a mile a minute, in theory. In practice, the highway gets major upgrades during the night hours, and so I was going very slowly for a lot of the trip.
When I got to the Meadowvale exit on the 401, I decided to give the built-in GPS unit a try. It knows it's in Toronto, so when I start typing a street name, it guesses it once I have the first three letters. Too bad the police wouldn't let me through. I found a friendly officer, and asked him how I could get to my intersection. He gave me a route along street names which were unfamiliar, but my GPS found them easily. So I give points to built in GPS unit!
Once I picked Abie up, and got onto the 401, we experienced construction and flashing lights again. I was getting used to driving, so they weren't as much of a problem as they were earlier. We stopped at the house so I could leave the food from work there.
I wanted to see how we gave the car gasoline. I was familiar with the process for Zipcar. This looked similar, really. You make the purchase, it requests a pin number (my driver ID) and the odometer (286. These are new cars!). My card was declined! We tried the gas card three times, and still it failed. So I paid for $30 gas on my own card, and have to send the receipt with a note to the Toronto office (at the foot of Bathurst St). I phoned the 1-855 number to get that advice. The Car2go won't let you end your journey outside of the home area, so we had to drive all of the way back to Yonge and Eglinton.
Another big delay! The car wouldn't let me end the rental until it could detect that both of the cards (parking and Mastercard) were inserted into the slot. Yes, of course I inserted them properly into their slots. Another call to 1-855 and they talked me through how to put the cards where the car would detect they were returned properly. Uh, that didn't work! So the call centre rep was able to end the rental for me by sending the computer data to the car. I understand these smart rental cars have a phone built in, and they can command the car to lock, unlock, honk by sending the car a special text message. In fact, each Car2go has an SOS button on the GPS unit which dials 911 (I think; I didn't try it out).
Finally, the two of us were able to enter the subway system, to catch the Yonge Shuttle home. I can't say that Car2go is bad, but it would have been better if it was half the price, if I knew how to drive a SmartCar better, if their security system worked better, if their gas card system worked, and so on. Zipcar would have required me to make a reservation, and to either return the car by the reservation end, or extend the reservation if needed. Car2go system is simply drive around until you are finished, and then park it in a specific Green P parking lot.
Gawd. Has facebook really taken over the personal web log? It's scary.