Meanwhile, there are tons of car-sharing programs in Europe
(book a car online, find the car, open with your RFID card or app, ride it, return it...
think "car rental" except by the hours instead of the day, and entirely between you, the car and an online webapp, without ever needing to speak to an actual human)
Not a single human interaction needed along the line.
Really interesting, I have a few questions - When you say find it, you mean that it's located some where at random, or there is a garage or some similar place.
Several different system exists.
- Mobility (CH) and DB Carsharing (DE)
The car are normally waiting for you at their respective station. (There are lots of them. At least at each train station. In big cities you can find a station in lots of big underground city parking). You take the car for this station, and at the end of your micro-rental, put it back at the same station.
(A little bit more stringent than what you've used with bicycles : you need to return it to its corresponding station).
Though there exist pilot projects to allow you to commute between stations, typically along some frequented path where every single individual only goes one way (e.g.: one way trips between the city and the airport).
Given that there are all-electric drive cars in the fleets of some companies (Mobility do have a few Renault Zoe in their fleet, Electriceasy has a 100% electric fleet, mostly Citroen C-Zero) you definitely need to return the car in a specific station that has a corresponding high-speed charger (battery full within 30min, so by the time the next renter comes, the car is good to go).
- Catch-a-car (CH) :
Completely random. Within a region where that service is available (usually a dense city), you pick cars whenever you find them and leave them wherever you want (as long as they are correctly parked, and within the geographic region - a.k.a. the above mentionned city).
It's even more freedom than your typically bicycle sharing service (it's closer to how anonymous bicycle might be informally handled on big campuses :-P )
- Auto'lib (FR)
I don't remember clearly, I think the friends mentioned that you can roam between stations... (like the Mobility pilot project).
The first time to unlock and unblock the car (the same kind of blocking normally used by the car's alarm system on privately owned car), you open the car using a RFID card. Then you use the keys (usually waiting for you in the glove box or some other similar place) for the remainder of your rental.
At the end of the rental, you leave the key in their stash, and re-lock/re-block the car using the RFID card.
The exception: some modern car (e.g.: the electric Renault Zoe) don't have keys at all, but exclusively use a wireless fob.
On these car, the rental computer is connected to the wireless fob system, and you always use the RFID.
Is there limitations on drive length?
On the complete random system :
Nope. Drive for as long as wish.
As soon you take a car, the car is marked *unavailable* in the system.
Once you finish and re-lock it with the RFID or the App, the car is marked again as *available for rental* in the system.
Using the App, you can *pre-book* a car : Say you don't stumble upon a car in your street. You fire up the app, find that there's a car 2 blocks aways. You can book it from the app and the car will be reserved for you and unavailable to other in the system, as if you've already taken it - rental timer starts ticking right away, so you're also paying as if you've already taken it.
On "Catch-a-car", you pay by the minute, with 2 different prices depending if you're driving the car, or if the car is waiting for you parked somewhere (i.e.: you prebooked it, or you haven't returned it *available for rental* again).
On the systems using stations (Mobility, DB Carsharing, etc.):
You pre-book cars for a given amount of hours using a smart-phone app or webapp (e.g.: I need the electric car tomorrow between 1 and 3 pm. Or, which car is available in the neighborhood during the next 3 hours. Or, I need to rent a mini-van next week for the whole day, etc.)
Then during the period you booked, you get to drive the car, as far as you want.
You only need to be on-time at the station to return it (and re-charge it, for electric cars) before the end of the period you booked. No limitation on distance.
You pay both by hour of reservation AND total number of km.
If you see that you need more time, you can use your smartphone or the in-car rental computer to ask for an extension of the booking (e.g.: a +1 hour button). If nobody has booked the same car category after you and the car is still free, you can keep it longer.
You can also similarly return the car earlier (but Mobility has still you pay for half the price of the remaining hours that they kept needlessly booked for you).
Again, it's mostly a question of hours (either just billed or booked). Never a limitation on distance.
Do you fuel the vehicle, or is that all contained in the hourly price?
Fuel: entirely contained in the price.
On random-cars (Catch-a-car): you never take care of it. (The company re-fuels them from time to time. And potentially relocates them).
On micro-rentals (Mobility, DB Carsharing): if you need to tank or if the tank is less than half before you return it, the in-car rental computer will give a special credit-card with a random pin that you can use to get fuel without needing to pay on your own.
You MUST always return cars with the tank at least half-full.
If it happens that you *need* to pay on your own (e.g.: no gas station accepting that card nearby) you send a copy of the receipt and they re-imburse you.
- Electric cars (Mobility, Electriceasy, etc.) usually wait for you at a specific station, plugged into a fast-charger, so they are always 100% full when you take them. (and the rental company pays for the charging).
- Usually the companies are cheap suckers and go for the cheapest possible battery option (Mobility's Renault Zoe have the smaller 22kWh battery, not the 45kWh) so if you drive >125km, you might hit the limit (That the manufacturer's official mileage. Real-world numbers from my personal experience: >150km if you drive more conservatively, >100km if you drive like an idiot.)
- The car comes with a common wall adapter, so you can charge it on nearly any power outlet. (and those are available in lot of public parking). Most of these are free. They aren't fast, but it can add a few km range while you do shopping - for free.
- Renault Zoe also have a standard connector (Mennekes) so you can also fast-charge them on all fast charger.
some of them are free (other chargers of the same renter everywhere, IKEA has a *lot* of them on their parking lots, some community chargers.. )
other are paying (I've seen a couple of paying fast chargers at gas stations on the highway).
So you might recharge your electric car for free,
but you might have to pay the electricity for it on your own (your own electric plug at home, or a paying fast charger).
Depends on the charger, and no re-imbursement.
(But on the other hand, the price per range is still a fraction of the price of gaz - e.g.: 3 to 5 EUR worth of electricity per 100km - so I don't mind much)
The closest thing we have here is some bicycle sharing programs, which also work pretty well.
Yup, we have them here around too.
I suspect it is because of a combination of things - the lesser anonymity, I know people will use a credit card, but for some dumb reason a driver's license still seems to carry more gravitas.
Unlike the US in most european jurisdictions we have standardized country-issued ID cards. They are the one carrying gravitas. (and that everyone has, and that everyone uses as a formal identification everywhere - e.g.: to buy alcohol)
Driver license is just this thing that some people have to show that they have the right to drive.
On the other hand the marketing campaign of these system is constantly comparing to car ownership (because its a bit cheaper for casual drivers) and try to position themselves as a form of "shared ownsership" of cars (in the case of Mobility, it's not even a company, it's a cooperative. You literally own a small part of the car).
So that might help the user to think more of the cars.
Another matter is that the driver at least is going to be sober.
And that what I think is the only main limitation of shared autonomous cars in the territories where carsharing already works.
It's not that people are going to be pigs on purpose (and take a dump inside the car just for shit and giggles).
It's that people will use these cars while inebriated (for obvious safety reasons of trying not to drive while dangerously drunk) - and therefor risk puking and/or passing out while inside.