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In Germany, taxi-hailing has a twist of innovation

Joel Omotto @omottojoel

Kenyans were wowed when Uber taxis began their operations in the country a few years ago before others such as Taxify and Little Cab joined the fray, making movement easy and cheap.

But while people in Kenya and by extension Africa are still marvelling at the taxi app innovation, the developed world has moved a step further.

Imagine walking from your house or place of work, getting into a car that you do not own, driving it to your destination and leaving it there – Welcome to car2go, the world’s first free-floating car sharing service.

Founded in Germany in 2008, car2go is now the largest car sharing company in the world with 2.5 million registered members and a fleet of nearly 14,000 vehicles in 26 locations in Europe, North America and China.

On a recent visit to Germany, this writer was wowed by the innovation and sought to find out how it operates. Popular in the German cities of Frankfurt, Berlin, Hamburg, Munich, Stuttgart, Cologne, Dusseldorf and Rhineland, all you need is a smartphone and driver’s licence.

With those two, you download the car2go app on your phone then simply scan your driver’s license and identify a payment method. When your driver’s licence has been successfully validated, you start car sharing right away. “Car2go gives you all the benefits of a car without owning one because parking and insurance is paid for and the car has fuel.

All you need is your phone and driver’s license,” says Tobias Schmidt who works for the company and drove us from Frankfurt to Dusseldorf during our Germany tour.

The app allows users to locate and reserve vehicles and you are able to see the car’s fuel gauge or the battery’s state of charge (electric-powered cars), so if the customer wants to go for an extended drive, they can find the right vehicle for that trip.

To decongest the cities, the German government discourages private cars from the central business district and to do this, they have made parking slots scarce and charge exorbitantly for the few available. With car2go vehicles having designated parking spots, their services are godsend to most Germans.

“It is even convenient for those who do not have cars because you will not waste time going to the train station and waiting for it to come since the car is just near you. Besides, you may pay as little as €7 (Sh837) for a 10km ride unlike the train which charge €10 (Sh1,195) for the same distance,” says Tobias.

For car2go, the app is your key, literally. The cars are always parked within your home area and the app will direct you to the exact location after which a code appears on your phone and once keyed in, the door opens. “Once inside, you can drive to your destination within the city or estate after which you leave the car there for the next person who might want to use the service from that locality,” says Tobias.

For those with intention of stealing the car, be warned. “You cannot just walk away, you must switch off the engine and radio and leave the key inside before the door opens for you to get out. Recently, someone tried to run away with the car to Amsterdam, but we could monitor him on the app.

We quickly alerted the police who apprehended him,” says Tobias. Car2go charges vary based on the model of car. The Smart (for two people) category costs € 26 cents (Sh31) per minute while the A-Class and B-Class (for four or more people) charge between € 31 and 34 cents (Sh37-Sh40) per minute.

“Payments are normally made via credit card and can be made hourly, daily or monthly depending on the method you choose. You can also hire it for two days and even drive to another city, but you will pay parking for that. If you crash the car, we charge you €500 (Sh60,000),” Tobias told us.

And just like the war witnessed in Kenya between Uber and conventional taxi drivers a few years ago, the same can be said of car2go. “Taxi drivers hate us, they feel like we have taken their jobs because our charges are lower.

If you take a taxi from the airport to the city centre in Frankfurt, you will pay €30 (Sh3,587) while we charge €15 (Sh1,800) since you are not paying for a driver.”

With the success of car2go in Germany, other European cities such as Amsterdam, Madrid, Milan, Rome, Turin and Vienna have embraced the innovation and it can also be found in selected cities in the United States, Canada and China.

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