As a relatively new resident of Portland, Oregon who doesn’t own a car, I’ve become quite reliant on walking, public transit, and a nifty service called Car2Go (plus the occasional Uber or Lyft). Car2Go is a pretty neat on-the-spot car rental service that I first joined while visiting San Diego a few years ago.
Basically, there are a bunch of 2-seater Smart Cars all around a city, and anyone with a membership can walk up to one and rent it for $0.41/minute. You can park it anywhere on the street in that city’s “home area” when you’re done, and if there’s a meter, you don’t have to feed it. There’s a one-time $35 signup fee and a free smartphone app that shows you where cars are in real time. It’s a pretty awesome deal.
(I could go into more detail about the service, like how you can reserve a car for up to 30 min ahead of time if you want, and how one time it said there was a car and there wasn’t and I was sad, and how parking rules vary a bit from city to city, and even how they have not-unreasonable-but-pricey maximum rates for hourly and daily rentals… but you get the idea.)
I was initially annoyed, because this interfered with my brilliant plan to take Car2Go to within a couple blocks of symphony rehearsals in East Portland this fall. But then I thought a bit more, after realizing that my home and most places I frequent are still well within the new Home Area. I wondered who will actually be most affected by this change. So I pulled up the trusty Racial Dot Map and sketched the old (red) and new (green) Car2Go borders on top of it.
I learned three things during this exercise. 1) Manually drawing a bunch of lines on a screenshot is probably not the most efficient way to compare map data, 2) The old Car2Go map is much better drawn to scale than the new one, and 3) Asians, Hispanics, and Blacks will disproportionately be excluded from Car2Go beginning August 24. I took a quick look at a map of Portland income and earnings too, and was unsurprised to see that the areas cut appear to be overall poorer than the areas retained. And for reference, here is a cool map of the “Transit Oriented Development” score throughout Portland. (Note this map is significantly more zoomed-out than all the others here. Source here.) The areas excluded are much less well-served by public transit than the areas retained. Intentionally or not, Car2Go has chosen to offer the convenience of renting a car on the spot predominantly to white, wealthy people who already live near public transit.
About the change, Car2Go has this to say:
Based on careful evaluation of member feedback and historical data, we have determined that members are not able to experience the true benefits of car2go as the Home Area size results in vehicles sitting in areas, where they are idle four times as long as our vehicles in high demand areas. By updating the Home Area, we are confident that members will be now able to find a vehicle in the areas that they frequent most.
Of course, Car2Go can do whatever they want. But I wish they had dug a little deeper into their ridership data. I would love to see them market their service specifically to areas underserved by public transit and to individuals and families who might not otherwise have the privilege of a private vehicle. With an effort like that, Car2Go could make a real difference in the cities they serve rather than just giving lazy, wealthy white folks (like me) an excuse not to take the bus.