Portland, Oregon is one of many larger cities in the U.S. currently undergoing a transportation shakeup that’s still confusing even to some transportation groups and policy wonks.
It certainly seems puzzling as well to Share Now—that’s the combined company formed by BMW and Daimler, from their car-sharing operations that has been called ReachNow and Car2Go, respectively.
“Since launching in North America in 2009, transportation has changed drastically and mostly for the better,” Share Now said, pointing to all the transportation alternatives that didn’t exist before.
Car2Go Mercedes-Benz GLA250
That said, the company will be exiting Portland, as well as Austin, Calgary, and Denver by October 31 and Chicago by December 31.
“This decision was not made lightly,” the company said in a prepared statement provided to Green Car Reports. “We have had to face the hard reality that despite our efforts, we underestimated the investment and resources that are truly necessary to make our service successful in these complex transportation markets amid a quickly-changing mobility landscape.”
In 2012, when Car2Go was expanding rapidly, it called Portland one of its strongest markets.
If Portland is any such example, it’s gone through a confusing mobility landscape, indeed. In the past 10 years, public-transit ridership is down about five percent, despite a rising population. And yet over this time per capita car ownership has dropped by at least five percent. The percentage of bike commuters looks nearly level and has started to trend downward in the past couple of years. However by some measures Portland road congestion has decreased recently.
In the midst of many of these trends, the city has seen a flood of electric scooter-sharing (hauled off in diesel trucks to be charged each night, in at least one much-maligned case), several bike-sharing schemes, and like every other urban landscape in the U.S., an invasion of cars with Uber and Lyft placards shortcutting down quiet side streets never before used by cabs.
Car2Go Smart Fortwo, in Portland
Seven years ago in Portland, austerity-special Smart Fortwo hatchbacks with steel wheels and stipped-down fleet interiors were suddenly seemingly everywhere around town. It was also a darling with the city, in a place where Smart’s parent company Daimler has its North American headquarters for its commercial-truck arm.
Their reign wasn’t all that long-lived, it seemed, as after making much ado about “emissions-free carsharing” the company stalled on plans to put more Smart Electric Drive versions in the fleet. Another noteworthy point when the relationship started to sour was when Car2Go greatly cut its coverage area in the city—essentially cutting out more racially diverse areas underserved by public transportation.
BMW’s ReachNow was even shorter-lived. It had a more glamorous existence, wooing 20- and 30-something professionals from the start with Mini and BMW models—including some i3 electric cars—and launching with promotions that clearly targeted those with a lot of disposable income. Despite earlier declarations that it was profitable, and plenty of signs of marketing savvy Car2Go hadn't always exhibited, it pulled its operations in Portland and Seattle in July.
The irony is that Car2Go displaced the car-sharing operation Zipcar, which has a strong base in the city but simply cost more (it’s now owned by Hertz and has a very different model than it used to).
Car2Go offering bike racks in Portland
Ride Now isn’t going away. It says that it’s “refocusing its efforts and resources on the cities that present the clearest path to free-floating carshare success.” Those cities are New York City, Washington D.C., Montreal, Vancouver, and Seattle.
The new company called the whole transportation market “highly volatile,” but wasn’t ready to talk details about how exactly that penciled out or what it means for car-sharing looking forward.
“Ultimately, we know that in order to ensure the future of our business in North America, we have to think differently about where and how we operate,” said Share Now.
In the interest of survival, this time around car-sharing needs to be less about skipping car ownership and more about giving users something they won’t find with Lyft and Uber.