By Dave Fidlin | SDUN reporter
& Hutton Marshall| SDUN editor
We have a right to compain about gas prices here in San Diego. Floating around $3.60 per gallon, San Diego drivers pay about 50 cents above the national average. This is a pesky expense considering one’s daily commute, nights out, and the hundred little times we find ourselves hopping in our car for some unforseen errand.
San Diegans have been combating these soaring gas prices with emerging, tech-driven car and ride-sharing programs, which also serve as ways to avoid driving innebriated and the stressful quest to find parking on weekends.
Car2Go has paved the way here in San Diego, both in terms of profitability and popularity, but the more grassroots ride-share companies have also found their way onto San Diego’s streets.
Uber, Lyft and SideCar are three smartphone-reliant ride-sharing programs gaining traction in San Diego by appealing to weekenders as a financially viable alternative to the often nauseatingly high taxi prices found in San Diego.
The most visible of the three is Lyft, whose drivers you may recognize driving those cars with the pink mustaches on their grill.
Recent legal crackdowns in California now ensure these companies, labeled “transporation network companies” or TNCs, and their drivers operate more like taxi services in terms of driver qualification and screening. Many wonder whether this will act as a major speedbump to the services or add needed validity and assurance in them.
While they undeniably have continued to grow with youth in urban settings throughout the country, nowhere have they managed to garner the financial success and municipal support seen by car2go here in San Diego.
Touted at the time as a forward-thinking transportation alternative, car2go entered the San Diego landscape two years ago with a large-scale media blitz and a bounty of applause.
When German-based auto manufacturer Daimler announced plans to bring its electric car-sharing service to San Diego, it was notable. San Diego was the second U.S. city — only to Austin, Texas — to have a large footprint for electric cars. Today, car2go is available in nine cities.
When car2go officially began operations in San Diego on Nov. 18, 2011, the company had a fleet of 300 of its so-called Smart Fortwo cars available throughout designated portions of the city. Today, the fleet has swelled to about 380 cars.
From the beginning, car2go covered many Uptown neighborhoods, including Mission Hills, Bankers Hill, Hillcrest, North Park and South Park. The company also blanketed most of the Downtown area, as well as other sections of the city.
According to company executives, about 500 San Diegans became car2go members in car2go’s earliest days. In the first quarter of 2012, there were about 3,500 members. Today, the company has about 12,500 registrants using the service on a regular basis.
“People are still interested in registering,” said Katie Stafford, communications manager of Daimler’s North American division. “We’ve heard from quite a few people who like our service because they see incredible value and view it as efficient.
As with any technology, there have been kinks that have needed to be worked out. Well before the launch, car2go executives worked with the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) to help develop the company’s footprint within the city. The process included installing car-charging stations.
“Early on, the infrastructure was not as robust as we would have liked,” Stafford said. “We had to do some things creatively to still offer riders an incredible experience.”
But Stafford said car2go has increased its investment in the city, most notably with the recent development of a charging depot that allows for more of the Smart Fortwo cars to be charged at any one time.
Throughout the past two years, a number of city organizations have put their support behind car2go and other services. One of them is Move San Diego, an advocacy group comprised of residents, environmentalists, bicyclists, pedestrians and transportation experts. Members routinely take up land-use policies pertaining to sustainable transportation.
“I feel like car2go is filling a much-needed solution to a void that has been in San Diego when it comes to some of the mobility problems people have been experiencing,” said Elyse Lowe, executive director of Move San Diego.
While the bus and trolley services have served some San Diegans, Lowe said the limitations of both services have presented challenges to others. Car sharing, she said, offers a heightened degree of efficiency and flexibility.
“A service like car2go has impacted so many people that I know,” Lowe said. “There have been people who have gotten rid of their cars because they find this more cost-effective. It’s been cool to see how it has impacted them.”
In car2go’s first two years of operation in San Diego, the company held a sole-service contract with the city, meaning it was the official provider of electric vehicles. The city recently made the decision to renew its relationship with car2go for a third year.
The city council, with input from the city attorney’s office, is determining how San Diego should proceed from November 2014 onward with the service contract arrangement, be it through a formal requests for proposals (RFP) process or other methods.
In recent weeks, Interim Mayor Todd Gloria lauded car sharing in San Diego, proclaiming it “incredibly successful.”