Calgarians’ travel behaviour is reflected in Car2Go use and planning.

What Car2Go can teach us about Calgary

Car sharing services have been around for a long time, but when Car2Go arrived in Calgary its popularity and apparent success exploded almost immediately. Anywhere you go in the city core you see these iconic blue and white Smart Cars zipping by.

If you are not familiar with Car2Go, the system is pretty simple: After you sign up, you can hop in any unoccupied car and drive anywhere inside a Home Area (see map below). You can leave your car in any 1+ hour parking spot and finish your rental there. You are charged only for the time you use the car, no monthly fee.

For a city with almost one registered motor vehicle [PDF] per person, it at first seemed counter-intuitive to me that the service would be successful, but I think it has worked (where other car shares may have faltered) for three major reasons:

  • Relaxed parking rules for Car2Go cars in the Centre City area
  • The ability to perform one-way trips
  • The existence of good transit in the Home Area

Each of these three factors are crucial. The ability to make one-way trips wouldn’t be so useful if you didn’t have transit as a way back if for some reason there was no Car2Go nearby. Allowing Car2Go to park for free in high-demand parking areas (usually where parking is not free) is a recognition by the city that those will also be high-demand Car2Go areas and thus encourage people to use the service. Correction: Councillor Carra has informed me that parking is not free, it’s just billed electronically to Car2Go. That being said, there are still accommodations made for Car2Go above and beyond what regular users have, including Car2Go only spots on the ends of blocks. This makes the whole system’s success even more impressive. The more time a single vehicle spends driving around (instead of being parked on the street) the less parking is needed for those vehicles and more parking is available for other drivers.

And so, on further reflection, perhaps it’s not surprising Calgary has seen a solid amount of Car2Go use since it’s arrival here.

There are some things, however, about how we use Car2Go in Calgary that make us somewhat unique. Let’s have a look.

Commuter Behaviour

I would not call Car2Go a particularly commuter-oriented service. Using it every day is definitely more expensive than taking transit. It may be cheaper than parking (though a $15 round trip five days a week for four weeks adds up to $300), but there is added inconvenience of having a limited number of places where you can leave the car for the day, and no guarantee that you will be able to get a car heading back. I can see it being a great service if you are running late, or need to get home from work quickly however.

My above statement notwithstanding, in Calgary Car2Go is used a fair bit by commuters. Just have a look at a couple of screen captures from Car2Go’s (now old) website. Compare the downtown cluster in the morning:

Car2Go Morning Rush

Morning Rush (7:30am) – Cars Clustered in Downtown [Car2Go Website]

with the basically empty core in the evening:

Afternoon Rush

Afternoon Rush (5:00pm) – Cars Form a Circle [Car2Go Website]

This lets us infer that people are using the service to commute a fair bit, but there might be more than just that. Notice, for example, that in both cases the Beltline remains essentially empty. Most of the cars travel just up the river bank, and the lack of cars in the Beltline could be a reflection both of its flatness and of the walkability it provides – those who work downtown and live in Beltline probably walk.

There’s another interesting phenomenon in the Afternoon rush: Cars appear to form a sort of “ring” at a fixed radius from downtown. Notice the band of cards running through Scarboro, Bankview, Mount Royal and Ramsay. This ring is either a reflection of the geometry (river bank) of the city, but it’s appearance in Ramsay might suggest something else: there’s a point at which the advantage gained from driving a Car2Go home is overtaken by the cost, and a different service (transit or driving a personal car) becomes more appealing.

Home Area

Another thing to look at is Car2Go’s home area. I’ve included an interactive map with two points of interest that I’d like to touch on, so you can have a look for yourself.

First, notice that the area is contiguous (with the exception of the airport and a police station just north of John Laurie Boulevard). This doesn’t really have to be the case, the technology is smart enough to know when you’re in an area or not. What is does however is give people an intuitive sense of what part of the city is “Car2Go-Able” and what is out of bounds, and this reflects how the layouts of neighbourhoods changed over time as the city expanded.

For the most part the service forms a regular shape bounded by some of the more major roads that represent a shift in the layout of the city. Neighbourhoods south of Glenmore Trail become increasingly curvy and lose the grid-like structure that is essential for good shared-use services like Car2Go or transit. The same can be said in the North and West.

There are a couple of outliers though. Inglewood (orange marker) stretches East of the rest of the boundary but is an obvious choice to the area, with relatively high commercial and residential density. This means Car2Go turnover will be high and the service will get good use, which is one of the principle advantages of density in a city. And the service will reach out to denser areas on the edge of the boundary such as Glenbrook Village in the very Southwest corner of the Home Area.

These outliers speak volumes: Car2Go service is attracted to even moderate density. Areas the generate a lot of residential or commercial traffic are ideal places for Car2Go service, and they also happen to be places where individual car ownership is less ‘necessary’. They are indicators of what makes cities thrive.

Perhaps most interesting of all about Car2Go’s success in Calgary is that individual car ownership is not as important to people as one might think. What’s important is flexible, reliable mobility. As automated vehicles make their way into our society, we must keep Car2Go’s success in mind as governments adapt to the changes in how we get around, and how cars fit into our cities.

Willem Klumpenhouwer

Willem is a PhD student in transportation planning and engineering at the University of Calgary, working on improving transit schedule design. In his spare time, Willem does programming projects and is a volunteer and improviser at the Loose Moose Theatre.

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