03 October 2011

It's the only way to live in cars

One pitch that I found of particular interest at the Dublin Investment Summit was from Marc Rafferty, MD of GoCar.

GoCar is a car sharing scheme launched originally in Cork in 2008, expanding into Dublin just over a year ago in September 2010. If you have ever used ZipCar in San Francisco or London, you know the general idea: for a monthly membership fee and a per-usage charge you can rent a car by the hour from one of a number of stations around a given city. With GoCar usage is charged on both a mileage and per/hour basis, and cars must be returned to the same station they were rented from. With full support from the City Councils who are happy to provide GoCar with dedicated on-street parking spaces for their base stations, GoCar have three locations in Cork, nine in Dublin and were looking for additional investment to expand into other cities beyond these two.

GoCar's first Dublin location was within a sixty second walk of my front door, so I have been aware of its existence since launch day (more or less). I do not have a car myself because I do not believe in private ownership of cars in an urban environment. In an ideal city environment everything you need for 90% of your day-to-day existence would be within walking or cycling distance, and an effective and efficient public transportation system would provide access to the other 10%. Obviously no-one could pretend that Dublin is either an ideal city environment or has an effective and efficient public transportation system, but I still try to live my life according to my beliefs - I walk or cycle everywhere I can and take public transportation or (occasionally) a taxi anywhere else, and the ability to walk to work has always been a major factor in choosing any house we have lived in.

Given my ideals, the reality of my lifestyle and the odd bit of disposable income that I find lying down the back of the couch, I would appear to be a text-book customer for the GoCar service, and yet neither I nor anyone I know have used it. Moreover on the very week it launched when I first looked at the charges online I dismissed the service as too expensive, mainly in comparison to equivalent services in San Francisco and London. While I was happy to accept that due to economies of scale, differing insurance and petrol charges, and Irish service would tend to be more expensive, it was what I perceived as double charging (there being both a per/hour and a per/kilometer charge, as opposed to ZipCar in SF that only charges by the hour for journeys up to 180 miles) that put me off.

However after seeing Marc's presentation, and his overview of future projects that include the introduction of electric vehicles, I thought I would take a look at the costings again in more detail. My experience with ZipCar in the US has all been courtesy of Mr Tadhg who uses it extensively. He has rented a car to pick us up from the airport, go shopping with us when we had a lot of bulky items to carry, and to take us sight-seeing, so I thought I would take a look at the cost associated with using GoCar in each of those scenarios.

Scenario One - A trip for two to the airport

Public Transport
Our current method of meeting someone at Dublin airport involves travelling out by AirCoach from the city center (a ten minute walk to the nearest stop), and getting a taxi back to our house. Total cost involved = €14 (2 people @ €7 per person) on the AirCoach + €27 taxi fare for a total of €41 for the round trip. Alternatively if we weren't in a hurry we could get the 16A all the way to the airport for €2.30 per person, for a total of €31.60 including taxi back.

Assuming a weekend rental (when GoCar is most expensive) we would be charged €6.75/hour and €0.45/km. The drive to the airport is 13.1km from the nearest GoCar station (according to Google Maps), and if we estimate a 2 hour trip (30 minutes each way and an hour waiting around) we get a total cost = €13.75 (2 hours x €6.75/hour) + €11.79 (13.1 km x 2 at €0.45/km) + €3 parking for a total of €28.54

GoCar wins by between €13 and €3

Scenario Two - A trip for two to Scandinavian Flatpack Land

Public Transport
Our current method would involve taking the 140 from Dawson Street (A ten minute walk away) to the Swedish Bookcase Supplier and back, and having our newly purchased flatpack bookcases delivered the next day (it cost me about €50 the last time I think). Total cost: €9.20 (two return bus fares at €2.30 each way per person) and €50 (Delivery charge) for a total of €59.20

Again assuming a weekend rental we would be charged €6.75/hour and €0.45/km. The drive to the Swedish Bookcase Supplier is 11.75km and takes 20 minutes from the nearest GoCar station (again according to Google Maps). Although parking is free I defy anyone to spend less than two hours there, so we'll say a total trip of three hours, this gives us a cost = €20.25 (3 hours at €6.75/hour) + €10.58 (11.75km x 2 at €0.45/km) for a total of €30.83.

GoCar wins by almost €20

Scenario Three - A trip for three to a place of scenic interest

Public Transport
When visitors have come to Dublin,we have on occasion taken them to either the Hill of Tara or Glendalough. In either case we borrowed a car, but you could do the trip to Glendalough by public transport, taking the St Kevin's Bus Service from Dawson Street (a ten minute walk away) to Glendalough, leaving at 11:30am and returning at 16:30pm. A return trip costs €20 per person, so for three people traveling the total cost would be €60.

Again assuming a weekend rental we would be charged €6.75/hour and €0.45/km. The drive to Glendalough is 66km each way, and assuming you travelled and stayed for the same amount of time as if you used Public Transport, five hours, and availed of free parking the total cost would be = €33.75 (5 hours at €6.75/hour) + €59.40 (66km x 2 at €0.45/km) for a total of €93.15

Public Transport wins by over €30

So interestingly enough, and contrary to my initial skepticism, GoCar actually works out as a viable and economic alternative in some urban scenarios, only falling down when rented for longer than three hours or driven further than 40km or so. It is basically ideal for short city hops, the only immediate challenge that I can see is the fact that it has to be returned to the same base station as it was taken from, which precludes it from being a point-to-point alternative in the way DublinBikes are.

To see the potential for this its worth taking a look at the newly launched Autolib service in Paris, where they aim to have 5,000 electric cars in the car sharing scheme by 2013. If the majority of journeys are as short as in the first two scenarios above, then the limited range and charging times of current electric vehicles won't be an issue. Rafferty spoke of a trial with the ESB's E-car initiative of a single vehicle, but it is not hard to imagine a wider ramp-out across the city (though possibly not in the current economic climes).

I hope Rafferty and GoCar find the funding they need, or see a considerable upswing in usage of the existing service. This is a concept that I can whole-heartedly support, the devil, of course, is in the execution.

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At 11:06 pm, Anonymous steve said...

good post. time spent in paris this summer really put our urban transport network in perspective... it's rubbish, and pricey..

not commenting much but reading it all, lovin all the blog activity and pleased to see you looking good in photos, must hook up soon.


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