Posted by Michael Andersen (News Editor) on August 2nd, 2013 at 4:55 pm
An ultraportable $99 bike car rack designed to let people combine bike trips with Car2go's floating carsharing service was unveiled Thursday afternoon on Kickstarter. It's an undeniably neat idea.
The new product's mastermind fails to mention an important fact in his enthusiastic video, though: his unauthorized product could get your Car2go account permanently suspended.
"If you put a rack on the car2go for any bike, you are violating the terms and conditions, and you are at risk for losing your membership," Car2go spokeswoman Katie Stafford told us in a June phone interview about the forthcoming independent product, dubbed "Free2go" by its creator Ryan Battle.
The main reason Car2go forbids such products, Stafford said, is that the company feels that any detachable racks would be unsafe on the road.
"With the slightest bit of misinterpretation about how the bike rack is attached to the car … the bike flies off of the car," she said. "If it's designed for one bike and people add two bikes to it — if there were two bikes attached and one fell off, then who's responsible for that?"
Moreover, Stafford said, Car2go's insurance policy for its vehicles is written with the assumption that they won't have any external attachments. Car2go could renegotiate its policy, she said, but has no plans to do so.
Here's what Free2go looks like. It's small and light enough to be carried everywhere in a backpack, or a bike's saddle bag:
Battle, for his part, denies that Car2go is actually opposed to the invention he's been working on for the last two years.
"I met wither Nicholas Cole, CEO of Car2Go, during a signup event here in Austin last month," Battle wrote in a June email to BikePortland. "While he did touch on the insurance concerns he didn't indicate there would be any blowback to customers either. He further indicated to me that he would help me get the word out to all members."
Stafford, asked to comment on Battle's claim, said that Cole had extended no such offer, and that Battle must have misinterpreted.
She added that Car2go's anti-bike-rack policy is not theoretical and will be enforced.
"We have staff in each of the cities, and we have fleet team members who are constantly out in the home area monitoring the fuel level of the cars," Stafford said. "It's very easy for us to see a car that has a bike rack on it; It's easy for us to see the license plate; it's easy for us to see who's driving the car."
Stafford said that if a Car2go user were involved in a collision while driving a car with the bike rack on, they would not necessarily lose insurance coverage for that incident, but would be subject to a possible exclusion from Car2go.
Here's the passage of the Car2go terms and conditions that the company says forbid the use of external bike racks: a ban on "personally performing or authorizing repairs or any conversions on or to the car2go vehicle."
This odd situation is especially heartbreaking because there's no question that Austin-based Car2go, which launched in Portland last spring, has enjoyed rapid growth since and is rapidly expanding around the country, is missing out on a big share of the market by making it so difficult to combine its one-way carsharing trips with bike trips.
"Free2go is the missing piece that connects all the dots and allows people to shift seamlessly from one method of transportation to the next," Battle says in his video pitch for his product.
In an email Thursday, Battle said that Free2go racks are safe for cars, bicycles and users alike. If a Car2go member is "retaliated against" for using Free2go, Battle said he "will, on a case-by-case basis, allow the purchaser to return the product for a full refund."
Stafford (who, in what we assume is an unrelated decision, left Car2go effective yesterday) didn't write off the possibility that the carsharing company will one day allow bike racks, as its competitor Zipcar does on some of its vehicles.
"That's something that we'll continue to study in the terms and conditions," she said.