Oct. 15 2013 07:16 PM

Car2Go and Lyft battle for best alternative to your own car

Lyft might just be quirky enough to work.
Photo by Alfredo Mendez / Flickr

Services like Car2Go and Lyft make it easier to live in San Diego with, say, only a scooter or, for couples, one car. While Car2Go—available here for two years—is a car-sharing program, Lyft, which arrived in San Diego this year, is a ride-sharing program (think: hipster taxi cab).

And while it might make more sense to compare Lyft to your standard cab service (or something like Uber), we've come across a handful of Car2Go fans who've added Lyft to their alt-transportation options.

If you've not spotted Car2Go's blue-and-white Smart cars, then you're a hermit. They're ubiquitous. Lyft's visible feature, meanwhile, is the plush, pink moustache ("carstache") that drivers affix to their car's grill.  

Car2Go works like this: Pay a one-time, $35 membership fee and then use the website or smartphone app to find a nearby car—they promise you'll "always find a vehicle in your area." There's a catch: "your area" is what Car2Go defines as a city's "home area," which is limited—if you live in Clairemont or Barrio Logan, for example, both of which are outside the "home area," you won't find a car.  

Car2Go costs 38 cents a minute or $13.99 an hour. For a full day, you pay a hefty $72.99. The size makes them ideal vehicles for Downtown, where you can squeeze into remnants of parking spaces, park for free at meters or use a designated Car2Go parking spot. While there aren't currently any Car2Go spots at the airport, there are places within walking distance to leave the cars.

Once you have a Car2Go membership, you can use it in any city where the service operates—currently it's in 10 U.S. cities, three in Canada and 10 in Europe. 

Lyft, which started in San Francisco, expanded to San Diego in July despite being asked to leave by the L.A. Department of Transportation for operating what the city described as an unregulated cab service (despite that, it's still going in L.A.). Lyft's founder, John Zimmer, has argued that his drivers are thoroughly vetted and heavily insured (see lyft.me/safety for what that means).

Lyft works like this: You put in a request for a ride via smartphone app, and you're alerted to the proximity of an available driver. The app shows you a photo of the driver and his / her car, and you can track that driver's progress to your location. Your driver will greet you via fist-bump—drivers are told to treat customers as friends; if you're not a social person, this might be a problem. At the end of the ride, you pay via "suggested donation," which is how Lyft can skirt car-for-hire regulations. Passengers can then rate their driver (and drivers can rate passengers). Some drivers make an extra effort to earn a top rating, like serving coffee or dressing up in costume (one of San Diego's top drivers dresses as a pirate). Like Car2Go, there's a "coverage area" that drivers are limited to.

The winner: Lyft and Car2Go have the potential to complement each other rather than compete. Going club-hopping Downtown? Take Car2Go there and Lyft back home. But as far as an alternative to your own car, Lyft is new and quirky and worth trying out, if only to see whether you can snag a ride from a pirate.

Email kellyd@sdcitybeat.com or follow her on Twitter at @citybeatkelly.


See all events on Wednesday, Dec 7