A New Way To Get a Car for an Errand—an Hour—or a Day
It’s nice to have your own car, but what if you don’t need one most of the time? What if you could use one only when you had an errand to run, a quick trip to make, or someone to meet? You could save the purchase price, the payments, the insurance, the maintenance and other headaches.
Well, is you live in sections of Oakland and Berkeley, California, you can do it today. I did. I used Gig Car Share, a service from AAA that lets you find a car nearby, reserve it, drive it, and leave it when you’re done any place in the Oakland/Berkeley “home area.”
The first step is to download the app. For my iPhone, I grabbed it from the App Store. Then, I used the software in the app to sign up for a free account. This was interesting, because besides entering information, such as name, address, email address and credit card information in the easy-to-use forms, the app directed me to photograph my driver’s license and take a selfie to compare my face to it. I got it right the first time around, and then popped open the app.
The app opens to a map, centered on where you are. If you’re not in the car zone, just slide yourself over there. As usual, the locations are grouped, so, if you see a circled with “20” in it, as soon as you zoom in further it’ll break into more and more detail, until you are looking at single vehicles. These are available rides, which you can reserve right from your phone. Of course, it makes sense to do it when you’re close by (you can reserve up to 30 minutes in advance).
I found one just around the corner and walked there. I wanted to check it out before pushing the Reserve button.
Every Gig Car Share is a black Toyota Prius C hybrid (the small Prius hatchback) with a pair of bike racks mounted on top. You can tell it by the big “G” logo on the rear pillar. Though it’s not a large car, you can squeeze three people in the back seat, making it good for taking your friends along.
I found the car in good shape, if not sparkly clean. I saw a few bird droppings and some dust, but it looked serviceable. In the photo above, it looks great.
When you first reserve the car, the app asks you to check out the body for flaws, so you can report them and not be blamed for them. I noticed several scrapes and dings that had been marked with stickers, which showed that Gig Car Share already knew about them. I saw a tiny scrape on the right side but decided to let it go.
My car had a nearly full tank of gas, which was good to know. When you reserve a car, the app shows you the amount of fuel available. If, while using the vehicle, you need more, there’s a gas card inside the glovebox. Just call Gig Car Share for a pin to operate it.
You use the app—or a card the company sends you—to gain access to the car. There’s a little device in the lower left corner of the windshield that you place your phone or card near to connect to the car. Then, you can touch “Unlock” on your phone and you’ll gain access. I did, and sat down in the black interior.
I had read online about customers having issues with cars that were smoky, but this one just smelled lightly of air freshener, and was fairly clean. I found a couple small pieces of plastic wrapper and the driver’s mat had some dirt, but overall it was just fine. I pressed Start, carefully backed out of the tight spot, and was off.
Once you’re underway, there’s really nothing different about the driving experience. The Prius C is a competent car for errands, commuting, and general use, and this one was no different. The audio system had FM available, and I tuned to my favorite station.
After a mile or so, I decided that there was nothing to be gained from going further from my starting point, so I turned and then parked down the street.
When you stop, you can end the service and relinquish the ride for someone else’s use by selecting “End Booking.” Or, you can keep the car, in case, for example, you want to stop and pick up something or someone. I tried this, using the “Park and Come Back” setting on the phone.
While I was parked, I was charged $0.30 a minute – different from the normal $2.50 per mile rate for driving.
While I was parked, I took time to examine the bike racks. To use them, you take the key out of the packet in the glove compartment and place your bike in per the instructions on the key chain.
There are short videos on the Gig Car Share website that quickly explain how to perform the bike rack process—and the other features. I took time to watch the video on my phone before I tried the service. This makes it easy to figure things out, although I did lightly pinch my finger fooling with the bike rack.
The app is easy to use, with logical selections to get information you need before and after a ride.
When I was ready to resume, I unlocked the car again—it gave me a minute to open the door—and headed back to the area where I had started my ride. Because I was testing the service from a place near my own car—not my house—I tried to make it close to the original pickup point, but if I had needed a one-way trip, my drop-off could have been miles away, as long as I stayed inside the service area.
I finally found a spot in front of a house a couple of blocks from my car. I carefully checked for my personal belongings (the app warns you to), and ended the booking with one touch.
Gig Car Share uses software from Ridecell, an established San Francisco startup that bills itself as “The World’s Most Intelligent Mobility Platform.” Their platform also supplies the software for BMW’s ReachNow car sharing service, which is currently active in Portland, Oregon and other places. Ridecell also offers ridesharing software, and with the acquisition of Auro, they are moving into autonomous vehicles, as well. Their end-to-end platform is designed for companies to set up their own car, ride or autonomous fleets.
Gig Car Share sent me my receipt in an email. I felt that $6.43 was a reasonable price for an experiment. I even received a 10 percent discount as a AAA member. If you used the car longer and went further, of course it would cost more.
After a refreshing walk to my own car, I headed home and realized that someday, with services like Gig Car Share, Uber, Lyft and their autonomous vehicle iterations, I may not need to own a car anymore. Gig Car Share isn’t available where I live, or in most places–yet, but something like it likely will be available before long. I’d like to see the fleets use fully electric cars, and perhaps offer more choices of vehicle. But for now, the efficient little Prius is just fine.
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