There’s a new car sharing program in Columbus, Ohio called car2go (not capitalized). For $0.38/minute, smart cars are available for rent – fuel and insurance are included. They can be driven anywhere, but they have to be returned to a public parking space within the designated “home area”. The Columbus home area is essentially downtown, the immediately adjacent suburbs, and the Ohio State University campus. I am fortunate enough to live in the home area and for the past several weeks I have been tempted by a car-nu-co-pia of car2gos (cars2go?) smart cars parked everywhere.
Admittedly, I am not the target market for car2go, mostly because I have a functional car that I like and drive on a daily basis. This does not mean I was not curious about the service. Also, I really wanted to drive a smart car, if only to see if my opinions about them were right. I have a sort of personal issue with the little beasts. Anytime I see one, I yell, “Dumb car!”
Even when I’m by myself. But I always think it’s funny so it’s fine. My issues with them are pretty standard and commonly known: they’re too slow, too expensive, and they are not fuel efficient enough for their tiny size. They’re good for urban areas where parking is an issue, but parking is plentiful in Columbus. I rarely have problems finding some where to park even though my car spends a good amount of time at meters.
The car2go service isn’t set up for impulsive smart car driving; I had to sign-up on the website, they ran my driver’s license, and sent me a member card in the mail. It took about a week. The card is linked to my debit card and when minutes are used, I get charged. Because the service is new in Columbus, the $35.00 sign-up fee was waived and I got thirty free fun-filled minutes to explore all my smart fantasies.
The car2go phone app allowed me to find a car within walking distance. I had seen one parked in the same spot on the street for two days, so finding one wasn’t a problem. The smart car was locked with the key inside. There was a box on the windshield where I scanned my card and it unlocked the doors. Once inside the car, I had to verify that the inside and outside were acceptable and free of damage via a waiver on the screen for the navigation system. After that, I was free to drive a smart car to my heart’s content (which turned out to be about forty-five minutes).
The smart car that I drove was a 2013 with 297 miles on it. There wasn’t a lot whole going on in the inside. There were two seats, a steering wheel, heating/air conditioning knobs, a gear shift, and the navigation screen (with a radio!). No CD player or auxiliary jack. The cargo area behind the seats will hold things. Providing the things are small and of limited quantity. The only spot of any sort of personality was that the ignition was under the gear shift on the center console. For a split second I was able to pretend that I was in a Saab. Fancy.
I expected to feel unsafe in the smart car – a stupid moving target for big trucks and SUVs. However, it had a high enough seating position that I didn’t feel like I was in a small ridiculously tiny car until I looked back and realized that I could touch the hatchback glass. The gas and the brake were either a zero or a 100% proposition, with nothing in between. If I wanted to change velocity, I had to really want it. The brakes were sponge, sponge and STOP, like the car ran in to an imaginary brick wall. Flooring the gas created angry noise and marginal results (It was at this time when I had the sudden realization that slow and loud = bad and that loud and fast = good). The automatic transmission was the worst part. Shift times could be counted in Mississippis. There was a ‘sport’ shift on it and it was, like many sport shifts on non-sporty cars, completely pointless.
A smart car weighs 1600 pounds and has a three cylinder engine that cranks out 70 horsepower. It isn’t enough. Nominally, the smart has a listed top speed of 90 MPH. I tried taking it on the freeway to see if I could get it up to the top speed but I got bored by the time that it got up in to the mid-70s, so I gave up. I will assume that the top speed is possible if given a straightaway of similar length to that of the airstrip at the end of Fast and Furious 6. When I stopped and got out after the land speed record breaking non-attempt there was a distinctive burning plastic smell.
I’ve spent some time thinking about car2go and if it will be successful in my area. There are 250 smart cars in the Columbus car2go fleet and I can see them being popular with Ohio State students who are stuck on campus and need to leave the area to run errands. However, a quick drive through campus shows a shortage of car2go vehicles in that impulse-pickup zone. The quiet area of downtown, where I live, however, has car2go smart cars parked everywhere. From casual observation, I’ve noticed that smart cars seem to sit about 2-3 days between adventures. I’ve only seen one in motion. I’m tempted to say that I don’t think it’ll work in Columbus, but I’m usually wrong about stuff like this, so it will likely be a rousing success for that reason alone. In fact, I rather like the idea of car2go. I just hate the idea that they’re doing it with smart cars.
I’ve also spent time thinking about the smart car. It’s designed to be basic transportation. Which it is, so it succeeds. To try and compare it anything other than basic transportation isn’t fair. It wasn’t designed to be great; it’s function over form. I just can’t wrap my head around the idea that anyone would want a car so devoid of personality simply because it’s easy to park. — even for thirty-eight cents a minute.