Car2Go: Pay per mile, park without paying

SEATTLE -- Rent a car? Park - but don't pay.

That's the perk behind Car2Go, a new company that launched in Seattle in December.

Drivers use smart phones to locate one of 330 Smart Cars throughout the city, then use a custom access card with an RFID chip to get into the vehicle. Drivers rent the cars on a per-minute basis.

One of the biggest selling points, though, is that drivers can pick up a car and leave it at almost any place in the city without having to feed the meter, including the $4-per-hour street parking spots.

"It's a real incentive for people to car share," said spokeswoman Katie Stafford. "That's an advantage, and definitely a different kind of behavior that should be rewarded in a city."

Car2Go users have a virtual golden ticket -- a yellow free-floating car-sharing permit on each car that the city created when the service wanted to launch in Seattle last year, said Rick Sheridan, spokesman for the Seattle Department of Transportation.

The city had to change the municipal code in order to create the permits, which cost $1,330 each. In exchange for the permits, the company is paying Seattle about $440,000 in 2013, Sheridan added.

"The idea is that this gives people another option besides having to rely on the car that they own," added Mike Estey, manager of parking operations and traffic permits for Seattle. "It's convenience for this type of car sharing."

Car owners were stunned, if not a little intrigued.

"I mean, it's like highway robbery!" said Seattle driver Stephen Simmons about shelling out $8 for two hours of parking in downtown Seattle Friday, right next to a Car2Go Smart car. "Don't you think?"

Stafford pointed out that the cost of parking is essentially rolled into rates that Car2Go users pay.

"Parking is included in that cost," she said, "(but) you don't have to worry about paying for parking; you're just paying for the amount of time that you use the car."

The city says the permit cost is based on how much a typical driver might shell out per year in paid parking spaces. The changes to the city code include a clause that states GPS data will be used at the end of the year to account for actual meter costs.

Right now, the Car2Go territory stretches from South Lander Street north to North 130th Street, but the company hopes to expand in the future.

"You just cannot continue to accommodate one car for every person who lives in the city," Stafford said.

Car2Go users pay $0.38 per minute, with a per-hour maximum of $13.99 and a per-day maximum of $72.99. Users also pay a one-time sign-up fee of $35.