Daimler’s car2go, a car-sharing pilot project with 200 Smart Fortwo vehicles first announced in March, officially kicked off Wednesday in Austin, Texas. Now city employees will be able to pick up networked vehicles at stations and designated parking spaces around Austin, and drop them off anywhere within the service area.
The Austin network, modeled after a similar Smart Fortwo program in Ulm, Germany, is a “barter agreement” worth $85,000 to the city, according to the Austin Business Journal. Daimler will provide mobility as a service (city workers will get a limited number of free car2go minutes), and Austin has designated free street parking spots around the city.Car2go, while still only in pilot phase (Daimler and Austin officials will consider renewing their contract in six months), represents the latest introduction of a service that could play into a larger Mobility on Demand, or MoD system. As envisioned by MIT researchers including Ryan Chin (who explained the concept to us for a recent GigaOM Pro article), a fully fleshed-out MoD system would involve a comprehensive network of services in which city residents could rent an electric car, scooter or bicycle when and where they need it in order to bridge the “last mile” gap in many public transit systems (e.g., getting between the subway station and your final destination).
The Austin network offers an example of one-way car sharing, as opposed to the two-way sharing arrangement offered by Zipcar and other providers. (Vehicles have to be returned to the same spot.) That could make it more useful for the last-mile challenge. Daimler may have other goals for car2go beyond turning a profit — notably branding. (According to Chin, most MoD services are currently operated by advertisers.) But the pilot project could also help Daimler refine its algorithm for managing a fleet in this type of network — which could be an increasingly valuable tool as we move into the era of Car 2.0.