Getting around Miami just got easier.
Thanks to a new car sharing program, 250 smart cars are now zipping around town for on-demand use as part of a free-floating network that stretches from Coconut Grove and Brickell to downtown and the Design District.
Anyone with a membership card can jump in a car, drive it for as long as he or she likes, and pay by the minute.
Launched in late July, the car2go program is modeled after bike sharing programs catching on in places like Miami Beach, Delray Beach, Hollywood, Fort Lauderdale and St. Petersburg.
Zipcar originally pioneered the car sharing concept on college campuses, including the University of Miami, the University of Central Florida and the University of Florida. Miami Beach started the first city car-share in Florida in January with Hertz On Demand, although it started off with just 20 cars ranging in size from compact to SUV. Miami is the first to employ smart cars in such large numbers.
Car2go is designed to appeal to young, urban residents who don't own cars, but its simple registration process means that visitors also can use the program as an alternative for traditional car rental.
Drivers can register for the program online at Miami.car2go.com. Visitors planning to use the program should register at least two weeks before their trip to allow for time to receive their membership cards in the mail.
The card, embedded with a radio-frequency identification chip, is the key that unlocks the cars. By holding it over a card reader installed in the windshield, members can get into the car and enter their PIN number into a touch screen on the dashboard. The PIN allows the car to be turned on using a key kept in the dash.
Thanks to a partnership with Miami Parking Authority, members can park the smart cars at a street meter or in a city lot free of charge. Members can use the cars for as long as they want, without having to commit to a specific return time or location. They pay 38 cents per minute or a maximum of $13.99 an hour. Rates get cheaper the longer a car is driven. (One day is no more than $72.99.)
Parking, fuel, maintenance and insurance are included at no additional cost, and there are no annual or monthly fees beyond a one-time $35 registration charge.
There's green appeal, too: The white DaimlerChrysler "smartfortwo" cars, with their recognizable royal blue stripes, consume very little fuel, emit minimum levels of carbon dioxide and reduce traffic congestion by leaving a small footprint.
Members can search for the closest available car on the program's smart phone app.
"I've only had to walk a block or two to find one," said James Thompson, a Miami resident who works downtown and uses the car sharing program for lunch trips into Wynwood and the Design District.
Drivers can take the cars outside of the city limits to explore South Beach, Coral Gables and other places within 200 miles. They just have to return the cars to a meter or pay station space in the city of Miami when they're done.
Miami is one of five U.S. cities currently using the car2go program. Anyone who has a membership card can also use the smart cars shared in San Diego, Portland, Washington, D.C., and New York, with up to 100 other cities expected to join by 2016, said Katie Stafford, the car2go Communications Manager for North America.
The program also exists in three cities in Canada and seven in Europe, although American members currently don't have sharing access to those programs.
"What we're seeing is a lot of people using them for less than 30 minutes," Stafford said. "If you're visiting Miami, you can use it to get around or to take quick trips from, say, a hotel near Brickell to go to an art gallery or dinner in Wynwood."
The car2go program is responsible for refueling the cars, but if a user does take the time to gas one up, he or she can use a gas card stored in the car and get 20 minutes of credited drive time. The cars are equipped with the basics – air conditioning and radio – as well as a GPS system and an in-vehicle phone system that connects to the company's call center for help.
Driving one of the 8-by-4.5-foot cars feels a lot like driving a go-cart. There's very little acceleration power, so users have to be cautious about pulling out in traffic. But the shoebox size also means the cars are easy to parallel park on Miami's busy streets.
Despite the mini size, there's plenty of leg and head room up front. Cargo space in the back can easily fit two suitcases.
"My friend and I were shoulder-to-shoulder when we used one together the other day, but I actually had to pull the seat forward a notch to reach the gas pedal," said Thompson, who is over six feet tall.
Online: Go to miami.car2go.com and click "sign up now." The registration form asks for basic contact info, as well as a valid U.S. driver license number and info from a Visa or Mastercard that will be charged 38 cents per minute each time one of the smart cars is used. Once approved, a Member Card with an embedded radio-frequency identification chip comes in the mail. The process takes one to two weeks.
In person: By late October, the car2go office at 2935 Biscayne Blvd., Miami, is scheduled to be open for walk-in applicants. The company hopes to have the membership process speeded up to one to two hours at that point.
Driving record: Applicants' driving records are checked. Membership may be denied if there are convictions for reckless driving or DUI in the past three years, or three or more moving violations in the past two years, among other serious offenses.
Age: Members have to be 18 years of age or older.
Cost: Registration is a one-time fee of $35.
More info: 786-452-8739