Car2go ceases San Diego operations

Five years after arriving in San Diego as an exciting new alternative to car ownership and a weapon against climate change, car2go and its fleet of conspicuous blue-and-white Smart cars will vanish from local streets after today.

A series of unpredictable setbacks, including the rapid rise of ridesharing companies Uber and Lyft and delays installing electric charging stations in San Diego, made the international company’s experience here a disappointing failure.

The company’s departure also raises questions about whether the city can meet the goals in its ambitious climate action plan, and whether car sharing could be successful here under different circumstances in the future.

San Diego was billed as a key milestone for car2go, the first North American city where the company would use all electric cars instead of gas-powered vehicles.

That approach enhanced the already strong environmental benefits of car sharing, which allows commuters and residents to conveniently rent vehicles for short trips, helping some survive without a car and others solve “final-mile” problems they face when commuting by train or bus.

But the unusual approach turned into a strategic misstep when 1,000 charging stations promised by the federal government in 2011 shrank to 400 because the nonprofit handling installations went bankrupt in 2013.

Worries about running out of power before completing a trip made car2go membership numbers plateau at about 40,000 and depressed the number of active users.

That prompted the company in late 2015 to shrink its home service area, the geographic region within which members could pick up a car and then drop it off.

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