BMW’s car-sharing service launches—and almost lands Ars a ticket – Ars Technica

Posted: Monday, April 11, 2016


SEATTLE—Between world-class transit cities like New York and sprawling, highway-filled metropolises like Houston sits a mobility middle-ground. Sometimes, a dense city quickly grows beyond its means and you end up with a population explosion—with a glut of road-rage issues to match.

What’s a person to do if they want to ditch their car in a city full of traffic and parking issues—particularly my hometown of Seattle, which is going through transit nightmares thanks to a tech-hiring boom—but can’t depend on lagging buses and trains? For roughly six years, Car2Go (owned by Daimler AG) has offered its car-sharing service in Seattle and other cities around the world as an in-between option. Now, German rival BMW apparently wants in on this action in North America. After a beta trial in San Francisco throughout 2015, BMW’s ReachNow service officially launched in Seattle on Friday, and I proceeded to take it for a weekend-long spin.

While the service’s weirdest and most intriguing offerings are still a ways off, the basic idea—pay by the minute to cruise in a BMW—has already accelerated smoothly from 0 to 60 MPH. Well, that’s except for the time I almost got a moving violation ticket.

Less Smart, more fast, please

ReachNow’s launch event promised Seattle drivers many new mobility options to come. The company also plans on future launches in three other North American cities this year and a total of ten metropolitan areas at some indeterminate point. But before we get into what makes this service distinct, let’s break down its basic idea for the car-sharing uninitiated—and how familiar its services already sound to BMW’s pilot city.

This launch incarnation heavily resembles Car2Go’s services, which have been available in Seattle since 2012. Either reserve a car via a smartphone app (which finds the nearest available car via GPS) or walk up to a participating car and tap it with an RFID-enabled card to start a trip. (If the car has been reserved by someone else, you can’t take it by tapping unless the other person’s 30-minute reservation limit has expired.)

The idea for both services is that once you enter your PIN number and start the ignition, you pay a per-minute rate to drive anywhere you want so long as you park it within the service’s designated area. This differs from services such as Zipcar, which require users to return cars to the parking lot that a trip began in.

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