If you've driven around San Diego city proper, you've probably seen the little blue and white Smart Cars buzzing about and sitting curbside. I got turned onto the service by some very trend-aware coworkers and a few months (and a few snafus) later, I feel I'm in a good spot to comment on the service a bit.
You sign up for about $30 online and get a card in the mail. They'll check your driver's license and make sure you can legally drive.
Finding a car.
There are apps to put on your phone, you can call the 1-800 number on the card in your hand, or you can use the website. Alternatively, if you're in downtown in the middle of the day you can just walk around until you find one. Whatever you do, know you'll probably be walking a bit to get to a car. You'll luck out occasionally and have one fifty feet away, but more often than not you'll be walking a half a mile or so. Before you freak out, ask yourself: couldn't you use the walk anyway?
Standing in front of your wheels, take the little blue card, swipe it against a sensor on the windshield, and the car opens after a few seconds. Hop in, type in your four digit code, and follow some onscreen prompts on a little control on the dash. Maybe twenty seconds before you're rolling.
You can drive wherever you like in the "service area", pop the key back in the dash, swipe the windshield sensor, and walk away. Metered spot? No problem. When you stop your rental the car will be available again for the next person.
Currently it's $0.35 a minute, plus the yearly fee. To put some context around there it's anywhere from $5-$8 to get from Point Loma to downtown (or vice versa). Get stuck at a bunch of red lights or a train crossing and the bill goes up. It's not as cheap as the bus (~$2.50), but it's much cheaper than a cab (~$23.00).
Tips & Tricks
Yes, you can get a parking ticket. Although you can park in any "standard" metered spot without paying the meter, if there is street sweeping that night (or the next night and no one moves the car), you're on the hook for a parking ticket. Considering that downtown has constant street sweeping, it's something to consider. Generally the cars are rotating in and out so it's not really a problem (ie: if you drop a car off on a Thursday morning it will be gone before Thursday afternoon), but it happened to me.
Screwed up cars.
There's nothing worse than approaching a car and getting ready only to find its dash screen saying "Out of Service". If you use one of the apps or the website, you won't run across these. But just walking around, especially in a busy stretch of time (such as downtown around 4pm-6pm) get ready for pretty much every vehicle you see to be out of service.
Check the interior.
Might just be me, but I hopped in a car and only after I put in my code did I notice there was no key. Took me about fifteen minutes on the phone to zero out my reservation. Just look around and make sure the key is there, nothing looks terribly screwed up, etc.
The phone number is helpful.
I'm a digital guy and like to do everything online so for me to say that a customer service phone number is helpful really says something. I've never had them be less than great. It's really valuable when you're standing there on a street corner and don't want to futz with your phone for a couple of minutes bringing up the app. Just find some cross streets, call them, they'll direct you to the next vehicle and reserve it for you. Easy.
Stop-over vs ending rental.
When you stop the car, you have the option of keeping the key with you which continues the billing cycle but also gives you protection of knowing the vehicle will be there when you get back. If you're stopping into the grocery store for five minutes on the way home, it's probably worth the two dollars to not walk up to the parking spot your car used to be in.
Alternatively, you can just end the rental and cross your fingers that it will be there when you get back. If you're going to be somewhere for a while and you don't mind potentially footing it a bit back to another ride, end the rental. It's your choice, just think about it in advance so it plays out the way you want it to.
Summary: thumbs up.
There are some people who can really benefit from the Car2Go service. Folks who live and work in the operating area can effectively use it to get back and forth to work cheaper than owning a separate car. Folks who are traveling to San Diego and spending most of their time in the operating area might be able to forgo a rental car. Sailors who are in the Point Loma or Embarcadero area can easily get around town for supplies and provisions.
Living in San Diego it's pretty hard to not have a car, but for a lot of households the Car2Go option might mean the difference between one car or two, or two cars or three. For the $30 fee, it's really hard to justify not giving it a shot.
Some additional math regarding the economics. Let's say you bought a new 2012 Civic sedan. Edmond's puts the "true cost of ownership" at roughly $8,000 a year. That's fuel, insurance, the vehicle, etc. Whole deal.
It would be (on the high side) $70/week for me to drive from Point Loma to downtown, which comes out to $3,600 a year. So in that pure example, I'm saving $4,500 a year.
Again, the Car2Go won't let me drive to Vegas or haul a family around, so I still think an average San Diegan is going to own a car. But analyze your needs if you're a multi-car family. For motorcycle riders, maybe it's just those rainy days or big grocery runs that has you wanting the occasional car.