Car2Go's departure from Toronto was a long time coming

May 30, 2018 By David Nickle,

If I was still driving Car2Go cars like I used to, I imagine that I'd be upset as any car-share enthusiast at the company's announced departure.

The tiny two-seat Smart cars amounted to a much more affordable alternative to taxis when I was running late: I could grab one at a Green P lot near home, and haul down to City Hall or across town to a news conference for not much more than 10 bucks.

If I were still doing that, then the car sharing company's decision to pull up stakes in the face of Toronto's new, supposedly-onerous on-street parking regulations would feel like a body blow.

But the fact is, I did let my membership lapse. And a big reason I didn't stay, was the company's decision a couple of years ago to stop using Green P lots and simply park illegally on Toronto residential streets.

This of course was the classic “disruptive technology” strategy, employed by disruptive giants like Uber — of coming into a market with an attractive service, and violating rules and laws to deliver that service as attractively as possible and demand accommodation.

It left me a little queasy. I live in one of those neighbourhoods where there are more houses than driveways, and where my neighbours who did own cars were already jockeying for spots that they paid for through on-street permit parking. I felt like I'd be a jerk, taking up one of those spots and having Car2Go cover for my infraction. So I stopped Car2Go and stuck with one of the other, less convenient but more neighbourly car-share plans: the cars are parked in Green P lots and other private parking spaces where the owner receives a fee, and they're only good for round trips.

Now, Car2Go is leaving. A planned pilot for allowing car-sharing companies to park on some streets is too onerous, the company said. A $1,500 annual permit fee per vehicle is too steep, and restrictions preventing them from parking on streets where on-street parking permits are already above 95 per cent subscribed means that the most popular destinations would be out of bounds.

I can see how that might make it tough to operate the kind of seamless car-sharing plan that would, as Car2Go notes, go a long way to encouraging Torontonians to get rid of their own car and live and travel greener. Ten years down the road, it might well be that most of my neighbours would be sharing just a few vehicles to run necessary errands, and on-street permit parking might be a rarity.

I would like to live in a neighbourhood like that. But I don't. And that neighbourhood is not the one that Car2Go has gone into now, breaking the law and arguing that paying for the consequences was worth it.

And it turns out that the company hasn't in fact been paying those consequences: those parking tickets, say city staff, have added up. According to a staff report, Car2Go has racked up $1.1 million in fines. Just a third of that has been settled.

It looks bad, but far from hopeless. Ward 30 Coun. Paula Fletcher is among those who think something can yet be done. Toronto, she notes, is not poorly designed for car sharing. Of more than 70 parking permit districts, just 22 are subscribed at more than 90 per cent — and only nine have a waiting list. And across all of the city, there are numerous Green-P, city-operated lots of the sort that Car2Go used to use exclusively.

“I just think a mix of a number of different things would work better.” she said.

And if not?

“There may be another one moving in,” says Fletcher. “I think it is the way of the future. There will always be those who are offering a car share model. And a free floating one. Which people like.”


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