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Car2Go app-based rental service launches in Chicago

car2go CEO exits a rental car

Car2Go CEO Olivier Reppert steps out of a car from the rental program's pilot Chicago fleet at a launch event in Pioneer Court Wednesday, July 25. | Getty Images

Imagine strolling down Michigan Avenue, spotting a gleaming 4-door Mercedes parked on the curb and tapping a finger to unlock it. It sounds like something out of a video game.

It’s not. It’s Car2Go, an app-based service launched in Chicago on Wednesday. The service lets users reserve rental cars, drive them and then leave them at designated parking spots.

The service is launching with 400 eco-friendly cars: a mix of Smart Fortwos, compact Mercedes-Benz sedans and SUVs.

Car2Go, a subsidiary of Daimler North America, is available in Chicago and 24 other cities in North America, Europe and Asia and reports a user base of more than 3 million subscribers worldwide.

Users pay a one-time, $5 sign-up fee when they register via the app. No reservations are required to book a car, and rates depend on the car you choose and the distance you drive.

Rides cost between 29 cents and 39 cents per minute, but prepaid packages based on a set number minutes and miles are available. Insurance, gas, parking and maintenance come at no extra cost, and users can rent the cars for multiple days.

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The program’s pilot service area, referred to as its “home area” in the app, is bounded by Foster Avenue on the north, Cermak Road on the south, Lake Michigan on the east and on the west by Kimball Avenue and Homan Boulevard. When traveling, users can drive outside the area but must park the car at one of the designated spots within the home area to end the rental.

The pilot program’s boundaries were constrained by some city aldermen who expressed concerns in March that the cars would further congest residential parking in their neighborhoods.

“They’re saying the app says you can’t park there,” Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) said at a City Council meeting on March 28. “But can you imagine if there’s one parking space on Racine, but it happens to be on the wrong side of the street?”

To win approval for the pilot program, Car2Go agreed to pay the city $75 per vehicle for parking in residential permit parking zones, and to frequently relocate its vehicles like Divvy “rebalances” its rental bikes to ensure there are no more than 10 cars per square mile in the home area.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel praised the program’s launch in a statement issued by the company, saying Car2Go “demonstrates Chicago’s commitment to transportation innovation and providing reliable ways to travel the city.”

Car2Go’s launch is the latest in a wave of app-based transportation programs coming to the city, joining a carpool service from the GPS app Waze that came to Illinois last month on top of the omnipresent Uber and Lyft ride-hailing services.

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