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Is Austin ready for full-throttle car sharing?

Friday, March 27, 2009 by Austin Monitor

On Thursday, the Daimler company and Mayor Will Wynn announced that the City of Austin could be the first city in North America to begin a trial run of a vehicle-share car2go program pioneered in Ulm, Germany. Originally modeled after the Parisian bike rental program, car2go would allow users to rent a small Smart Car without needing reservations; an access card would open the car and start the engine. The car then calculates a fee based upon distance and time, and debits the cardholder’s account. Wynn will bring a proposal to council on April 2.


Eventually, Wynn said, it would be possible to sync the vehicle’s locations with PDAs, Blackberries or iPhones. A pedestrian could check her phone for the nearest Smart Car, walk up to it, drive to a destination and park.


The pilot program would kick off this fall with city employees. The city would donate parking spaces for the cars, two of which fit into a single parallel parking space. In return, city employees would have access to car2go for work-related uses.


Daimler approached Austin about the idea first, and compared it to several other municipalities it was considering. Mayor Wynn told In Fact Daily Austin was chosen by Daimler for the pilot program because of “our reputation for innovative, sustainable technologies, our young, educated demographic and, frankly, our mobility challenges—certainly in our urban core.”


Ulm, which sits astride the Danube River, wrapped a pilot run of the program on Thursday, effectively passing the baton to Austin. If the item passes next week, city workers will be testing out car2go with 200 vehicles. If it is successful, as it was in Ulm, Daimler will offer the cars to the general population.


The Smart Cars are even more efficient than hybrids. The vehicles could encourage downtown workers to leave their own cars at home and ideally reduce downtown car commutes and gasoline use.


The non-profit Austin CarShare currently provides sharing of vehicles based in the downtown area.

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