Car be gone

070615car2goblogthumbBY LINDA BAKER

Car and ride sharing services have taken urban areas by storm. Low-income and suburban communities are left at the curb.

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Photo credit: Flickr

Car2Go’s shrinking Home Area



Car2Go bailed out of East and North Portland neighborhoods this week. The move dismayed many area residents.

An especially cogent response to the decision can be found here.

I asked Car2Go about East Portland — and if the company had plans to market its services to a nontraditional (suburban, low income) demographic.

Spokesperson Dacyl Armendariz responded:

“Since we came to Portland, our goal has been to help community members – residing in all areas of Portland – have a carsharing mentality.  We want to alleviate parking issues, and enable multiple users to use our vehicles throughout the day.  Unfortunately, after three years, we saw that the cars were sitting four times longer in those specific areas.  We do hope to come back to serve more of Portland in the near future.”

I myself have experience marketing car sharing to “more of Portland.” As documented in my April editor’s letter, I got my daughter a Car2Go membership for her 18th birthday. She wasn’t so enthusiastic at first —  she wanted a car of her own — but she soon came around.

After the letter was published, Armendariz contacted me, inquiring if I would be interested in appearing in a few media spots describing the benefits of car sharing for teens.  I declined, but my daughter said yes. View the clip here:


Clearly, ride hailing and car sharing companies view teens as a growth market.

Are low income communities equally ripe for the picking?  I put the question to Steve Gutmann, my go-to guy on all things urban transportation.

‪”It’s complicated,” Gutmann wrote in an email. “Flexcar and Getaround both did HUGE efforts in low income areas, with ample grant support, and both experiments were pretty miserable failures.  Neither continued beyond the grant period.  There IS a huge market, but at least back then, the necessary level of tech-savvyness, the advantage of having a smartphone, crime (i.e. vandalism and theft) and the credit card requirement all made it much harder than any of us anticipated.”

In related news, Salem debuted a new Uber-style on demand bus service last week.

What’s the outlook for ride hailing in suburban markets, as well as transit ridesharing models? Steve wasn’t optimistic.

‪”I think [the Salem service] is interesting, but sadly it highlights the fact that low-density areas like Salem can’t support any kind of public transportation without major subsidies right now. The [OPB] article says that the cost of providing this service is about half as high, and it certainly sounds like a better service, but it also remains heavily dependent on subsidies. What Salem needs, in order to make public transportation of any kind work reasonably well, is a lot more people in the same land area. And that seems pretty unlikely to happen anytime soon. A lot of Portland is in the same situation.”

New mobility services have taken urban areas by storm. But low income and suburban communities have been left at the curb.