Car-sharing returns to Seattle, but will it last? Testing AAA’s new GIG service amid a pandemic

GIG CarShare now has 250 Toyota Prius hyrbid cars on Seattle’s streets. (GeekWire Photo / Taylor Soper)

Car-sharing is back.

Seattleites have a new mobility option thanks to AAA, which just launched its GIG Car Share service in the Emerald City with 250 Toyota Prius hybrid vehicles on the streets.

GIG asks customers about their health before they reserve a vehicle. (GIG screenshot)

I just gave it a spin this week. My review, in a nutshell: GIG (as in, get in and go) is excellent, and will be familiar to those who have tried car-sharing. But whether it can survive — especially during an economic and health crisis — is up in the air.

Seattle was once a hotbed of free-floating car-sharing services, with BMW ReachNow, Lime, and Car2go operating their own fleets. But all three shut down in recent years after struggling to build a profitable business.

AAA will try to make it work. The GIG program operates just like the other services: use your phone to unlock a car, drive it around town, and park it in any city-operated spot within the service area.

The sign-up process took less than five minutes — scan a drivers license, take a selfie, enter credit card info, and you’re off.

The app shows all available cars in the service area, which includes about six neighborhoods across 13 square miles around the core of Seattle. I live a mile or so north of the area, so I ended up actually driving my own car to get to a GIG car. Not exactly ideal.

You can book cars for up to 30 minutes — I reserved one while at home and then made my way over.

(GeekWire Photo / Taylor Soper)

It was easy to unlock the car with the app. You can also do it with a physical card, which is good for low-cell service areas.

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A whoosh of fresh new leather smell went up my nostrils when I opened the door. It was a great entrance to what appeared to be a brand new ride.

However, my anxiety was running slightly high given the COVID-19 pandemic. I’m not super keen on using public transit or services such as Uber. GIG says it is doubling the frequency of cleaning and recommends customers to wear face masks and bring antiviral wipes with them to disinfect high-touch areas of the car.

I had my mask on and brought my wipes. At this point I just wanted to be in my own car.

(GeekWire Photo / Taylor Soper)
(GeekWire Photo / Taylor Soper)

That being said, I was impressed with the Prius. There was a wireless phone charger, a bike rack, and plenty of room, including a large trunk. It’s also fun to drive a zippy electric car, though this is certainly no Tesla. It reminded me of the BMW i3 electric vehicles, which were available via ReachNow.

I drove around for a bit and parked in a 2-hour spot. It was a breeze ending the trip on the app. GIG immediately emailed me the receipt: $7.54 for a 16-minute ride. It costs 40 cents per minute or $15 per hour to rent a GIG vehicle, about in line with what the previous services charged. GIG covers gas and insurance fees.

My GIG experience was super solid. The app was sleek and speedy, which was nice given the hiccups I’ve experienced with ReachNow and Car2go. And I love that GIG offers an airport parking lot. ReachNow and Car2go both did this and it was one of the best parts of car-sharing.

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GIG should expand its coverage area, though keeping cars in the urban core may be a priority. Before it shut down in Seattle, Car2go changed its pricing structure to encourage drivers to leave cars in the busiest part of town.

AAA says GIG over time it expects to grow the coverage area and fleet in Seattle.

The larger issue with GIG is the pandemic and how it may affect demand. Companies that operate similar shared mobility services such as dockless bike and scooter rentals are cutting staff, posting losses, and pulling out of cities as they attempt to weather the coronavirus storm.

It’s also unclear how public transportation affects the spread of COVID-19. Will GIG attract more people who want to avoid the bus or train? Or will people stay away from car-sharing to lower their risk of exposure?

Free-floating car-sharing has also experienced more success outside the U.S., including markets across Europe and Canada.

Regardless, those who need a way to get around Seattle — at least in certain parts of it — now have a new reliable option.

AAA’s innovation lab A3Ventures launched GIG in the San Francisco Bay Area in 2017. The service currently operates 1,000 hybrid and electric GIG vehicles in Oakland, Berkeley, and Sacramento and now Seattle. AAA says that the Seattle expansion makes it the largest free-floating car-sharing service in the nation, with 65,000 members.

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Los Angeles-based Envoy also announced an expansion to the Seattle region earlier this year. The company allows neighbors in housing developments to share an electric vehicle.

Zipcar also continues to operate in Seattle, though its vehicles must be returned to dedicated parking spots.



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