Calgary

Car2Go's exit highlights Calgary's urban transportation problem

The company ended services in Calgary and some U.S. cities on Wednesday, giving customers just one month's notice. The problem? It comes at a really bad time.

Unless you're a multi-car household, Calgarians say there are significant costs to getting around this city

Calgary's only car-share service, Car2Go, abruptly announced last month it would be packing up shop this Wednesday. Joe McGuire, a social worker, says the exit highlights some of the barriers to urban transportation in Calgary. (Submitted, CBC)

When Ben Leon heard car-share company Car2Go was pulling out of Calgary, he was shocked.

Leon owns Dandy Brewing, a popular craft brewery in the inner-city neighbourhood of Ramsay. It's not on any train line, and the rapid-transit bus (or BRT) that stops nearby only runs until 10:45 p.m. — not exactly aligned with last call.

He said on a Sunday or Monday morning, it was normal to see dozens of cars clustered nearby, remnants left by responsible drivers who shelled out for an Uber or taxi to get home after a few pints.

Now, he's not sure what his customers will do — or how he and his wife will juggle getting their two young kids to baseball games around the city with only one car.

"It will definitely be somewhat of a financial hit, for sure," he said "The expectation is that everyone will get their own car and drive themselves around. And it shows there's still that gap in services."

The company ended services in Calgary and some U.S. cities on Wednesday, giving customers just one month's notice.

Car2Go cited a competitive marketplace, the economic recession and unfriendly municipal policies for the exit. City officials met with the company in an effort to persuade it to stay, but no dice.

There's still that gap in services.-Ben Leon, a Car2Go user and the owner of Dandy Brewing.

Qyn Bayley-Hay, a digital marketer, said he's been using Car2Go since its launch in the city seven years ago. He takes a bus to work, so he was planning to sell his car sometime soon — now, he's not so sure.

"I need to rethink … how my lifestyle is affected by other factors outside of my control," he said. 

Bayley-Hay said using transit isn't usually convenient outside of his commute, Uber and taxis are too expensive, but then again, driving downtown means contending with some of the highest parking rates in North America.

"Those options, though they're viable, they're not financially viable," he said. 

Instead, he sees himself changing his lifestyle. 

"Maybe I'll spend less time going across town to go to dinner. I'll go somewhere closer.… it just changes the way that I view the city in terms of entertainment, and the convenience factor."

Qyn Bayley-Hay has been using Car2Go since it launched in Calgary seven years ago. He says he was disappointed to see the company, which he and many others rely on, pull out so abruptly. (Submitted)

About one week before Car2Go's exit, most cars had already been pulled off the streets.

"It's already hard," said Francesca Varisco. 

She, her husband and five-year-old daughter live in the inner-city. She used Car2Go to take her daughter to school a few neighbourhoods away. She now plans to take a taxi, at a 50 per cent increased per trip cost.

"We are a one-car family, and Car2Go was our second car," she said. 

Varisco lived in Switzerland and Italy before her move to Calgary. She said while she'd like to switch to transit or ride her bicycle more often like she did in European cities, she doesn't see either as a viable daily option, especially with a little kid in tow. 

"No offence to Calgary, but it just isn't the same. The system isn't there," she said, adding that population density and different transportation priorities made for a wildly different landscape in other cities — even cities that were also struggling economically.

Bad timing

Car2Go's exit comes at a particularly bad time for Calgarians who relied on it to supplement other transportation options.

In September, the city reduced bus and CTrain frequency to cope with a reduction of 80,000 transit service hours, handed down as part of city council's $60-million budget cut.

Arda Parlak is a 19-year-old university student who owns a car back home in Turkey — if he bought a car here, he'd have to store it over the summer while he's back home. He said transit's limited hours aren't feasible for his schedule. 

Parlak had been relying on Lime and Bird e-scooters, which go into hibernation for the winter on Friday and won't be returning for four months.

"It just feels like a slap in the face," he said.

Tangible and intangible costs

Let's break down the costs of one trip in Calgary — the kind it would be hard to make without a car.

Say you live in an apartment building downtown and have a medical appointment at Calgary's South Health Campus, in the southeast corner of the city. (For the sake of keeping these calculations comparable, we'll say your departure point is the Calgary Tower).

Sometimes Uber, or cabs, or transit, aren't really safe.- Joe McGuire, social worker.

That's not a ride that someone's going to make by e-scooter, period. There are very few bike lanes or pathways along that route.

You could take transit. That'll only cost you $3.40.

The new Green Line LRT project hasn't been built yet and is facing an uncertain future, so that's out. It'll be an hour-long ride each way on the BRT.

If you're heading to a medical appointment, you might not be feeling great — and that's a long trip, even without the walk to and from the bus stop.

So, maybe you want to take a taxi instead. That'll cost you $110 for a round-trip with no tip, $140 if there's heavy traffic and $160 with heavy traffic and a 15 per cent tip. OK, Uber instead — that's still about $80 for the round-trip and no surge pricing. 

With Car2Go, an hour-long booking would cost $16-$19 and three hours would cost $36-$45. So even if you drove yourself to the appointment and stopped to pick up groceries on the way home, it would still cost half the price of the next most convenient option.

And there are other costs. 

Joe McGuire is a social worker, so for him, the safety and well-being of his clients is top of mind. 

And, he said, for people who are marginalized each transportation option can present a different risk. 

"Sometimes Uber, or cabs, or transit, aren't really safe," he said. 

"Every woman I know, every woman or trans or non-binary person I know has had at least one uncomfortable experience with an Uber driver, a cab driver or experienced something on public transit. For a lot of folks, Car2Go was that easy way to get around the city without having to interact with somebody that's going to potentially make you feel uncomfortable.

"If you can afford Car2Go, there's a lot of stuff you didn't have to deal with because it was your car and you had control over it for the time that you had hired it."

Car2Go's app only showed a handful of cars left in Calgary as of Tuesday night, and plenty of empty parking spaces. (Car2Go)

McGuire used Car2Go, and its loss is going to be a hit for his own mental health.

"For anxiety, the idea of having to call up a taxi and interact with somebody on certain days was particularly tough," he said. "And then on days when I was feeling particularly low energy, Car2Go was also an option to get me home … not having that flexibility is a big deal for me …lots of people we work with tend to have similar issues."

For those who relied on the car-share service, there is a ray of hope on the horizon. Coun. Evan Woolley said the city is  in talks with other companies and hope to see a spring 2020 entrant into the market. 

For now, Leon said the company's exit will continue to shine a light on the problems with urban transportation in the city.

"I think it really highlights a missing piece for Calgary."

About the Author

Sarah Rieger

Reporter

Sarah Rieger joined CBC Calgary as an online journalist in 2017. You can reach her by email at sarah.rieger@cbc.ca.

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