Drive an Electric Vehicle – By the Hour

By Jonathan Marshall

Question: How do you get to drive a clean, peppy plug-in vehicle without shelling out $35,000 — and without a garage to plug it in at night?

Answer: Join a car-sharing service that rents electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles by the hour, and takes care of purchase costs, charging, and maintenance for you.

Services such as City Car Share allow those in the Bay Area to sample electric vehicles like the Ford Focus Electric. (Photo by Ford Motor Co.)

The rapidly growing car-sharing market has become one of the earliest adopters of clean-running vehicles. Companies in this space cater to hip urban residents who value green products and services. And, as an added benefit, electric vehicles shine most in stop-and-go driving over modest distances — exactly the profile of this target market.

Zipcar, one of the granddaddies of this market, offers a few clean vehicle models, and lets you search its vehicle locations for just those types. (The only all-electric model it currently provides in San Francisco is the Honda Fit EV.)

Meanwhile, City Car Share, a nonprofit competitor in the San Francisco Bay Area, offers the Nissan Leaf, the Mitsubishi i, and coming soon, the Ford Focus Electric. It also gives customers a choice of longer-range plug-in hybrids, including the Chevy Volt and the Prius PHEV 40.

If you want to go upscale, check out BMW’s DriveNow car-sharing service, which offers ActiveE models at seven San Francisco locations and one near the Oakland airport (with two more coming soon). It costs $12 for the first half hour and $0.32 for each additional minute, up to a maximum of $90 a day.

For cheaper wheels, take a close look at Scoot, which recently opened for business in San Francisco. It rents out electric scooters (and helmet) for as little as $5 an hour or $10 a workday (8-6, M-F), plus $5 a month. Your smartphone unlocks the scooter and handles payment, all in one app.

The ActiveE is available for short-term drives through BMW’s DriveNow program. (Photo by Matt Nauman.)

Outside of the Bay Area, options for California residents are limited. But if you visit Paris, check out the Autolib service, which provides electric vehicles at strategic locations across the French capital. The service hit a few potholes earlier this year due to vandalism (in Paris?) and maintenance problems, but received a $100 million loan from the European Investment Bank this fall to jump-start its expansion.

As these services grow, they should do wonders for introducing the public to unfamiliar but promising plug-in vehicles.

“If customers just try out an EV or hybrid through a car sharing service,” RelayRides founder Shelby Clark told Greentechmedia, “it gives them more familiarity, which assuages their range anxiety.”

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