Free2Move carsharing bites the dust, leaving low-car Portlanders in a lurch

(From Free2Move 2021 press release announcing Portland service.)

A carsharing service many Portlanders relied on in lieu of owning a car of their own, has shut down. Free2Move, a company that began service in Portland in 2021, emailed customers Monday saying all their cars would be off the streets by November 30th.

Free2Move is one of four carsharing providers currently operating in Portland (the others are Getaround, Turo, and Zipcar); but it’s the only one that offers “free-floating” service where users can rent a car by-the-minute and return it anywhere within a designated area. When Free2Move launched in March 2021 they said 200 Jeep Renegades would be available in a market that has, “has consistently demonstrated its commitment to alternative mobility solutions.” In 2015 Portland was ranked 7th on a list of 70 U.S. cities for its plethora of non-driving mobility options.

BikePortland reader Craig Harlow, who doesn’t own a car of his own, was a dedicated customer. He used Free2Move cars for family trips to the Tacoma area and shuttling his kids around Portland. “Carsharing is what allowed me to sell my family vehicle so many years ago,” Harlow shared with us via email Monday. “That was the start of me bike commuting, which led to so much more.”

“Zipcar and Getaround each have their place,” Harlow added. “But neither satisfies the day-do-day, ad-hoc flexibility of a free-floating program.”

Even with Portland’s relatively large number of low-car and no-car residents like Harlow, Free2Move couldn’t survive. The company said the decision was made for two reasons: “rising infrastructure complexities in the US transportation sector which have resulted in much higher costs” and a lack of users to build up necessary revenue to pay for it.

Harlow certainly felt the lack of investment. He emailed BikePortland last week — before the company made the announcement to shut down — to share his frustrations with a lack of service from Free2Move. He said after a strong start, Free2Move wasn’t keeping up with maintenance and cars he used would often be dirty, have low tire pressure and not enough gas in the tank. Harlow would end up spending more time on the phone with customer service, than using the car itself.

It appears Free2Move suffered the same challenges as car2go, a popular carsharing service that left Portland in 2019 after five years of service. Carsharing expert Dave Brook pioneered the concept in Portland in 1988 and founded Flexcar (which eventually merged with Zipcar). “Sadly, this is the latest in the rise and fall of flexible/one-way carsharing in Portland, and in other US cities,” he shared via email with BikePortland. Brook said carsharing is thriving in Europe and should work in Portland since there’s relatively abundant parking and gas remains cheap.

Nevertheless, the dwindling options for low-car and no-car Portlanders will likely lead more people to purchase and drive a car of their own.

Another reader emailed us to say “For me [getting a car of my own] is going to be the case. The presence of Free2Move made it much more practical to not own a car when public transit or bicycle isn’t a great option (e.g. day trips outside of the city)… there is a hole in transportation options now.”

Harlow echoed that sentiment. “If carsharing were to disappear entirely from Portland, I would regrettably go back to owning my own car, and to all the negative impacts that go along with that.”

And reader Ryan Mottau emailed to say Free2Move’s point-to-point service, “has been critical in filling the gaps in public transit and biking.” “I guess I’ll have to put that money into an e-bike and better/more rain gear,” he added.

On Monday, the Portland Bureau of Transportation told The Oregonian they’re open to other companies stepping in to fill the void, but for now, we’re left with one fewer carsharing options.

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Founder of BikePortland (in 2005). Father of three. North Portlander. Basketball lover. Car owner and driver. If you have questions or feedback about this site or my work, feel free to contact me at @jonathan_maus on Twitter, via email at maus.jonathan@gmail.com, or phone/text at 503-706-8804. Also, if you read and appreciate this site, please become a supporter.

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zuckerdog
zuckerdog
5 months ago

Grammatically speaking, it should be: …one fewer carsharing option, but the T-shirt came first.

Also, every Free2Go car I recently saw had expired tags (2022) which in hindsight was probably foretelling.

Lisa Caballero (Assistant Editor)
Editor
Reply to  zuckerdog

“Less” vs “Fewer” dies hard. I’ve been bugging my husband about it for a few decades. Next on my list, “people who,” not “people that.”

Matt
Matt
5 months ago

Would you lend me a hand with “lay” (transitive) vs. “lie” (intransitive)? Pedants, unite!

360Skeptic
360Skeptic
5 months ago

Heh, diletante. It’s persons. People is a collective singular, despite popular corruption.

Lisa Caballero (Assistant Editor)
Editor
Reply to  360Skeptic

LOL, I’ve never thought of myself as writer, probably a reason for that.

John V
John V
5 months ago

There are less people that know the distinction between those two use cases then “Fewer” vs “Less”.

Lisa Caballero (Assistant Editor)
Editor
Reply to  John V

Get your fingernails off the chalkboard!

qqq
qqq
5 months ago
Reply to  zuckerdog

Jonathan’s misuse of “less” instead of “fewer” is more than offset by his using the word “plethora”, which means a lot to me.

dw
dw
5 months ago

I’m sure some trolls will come in to comment “BUt I ThOughT URBanISTs sAY CArS ARe baD”. Cars are useful tools, the problem is the over-reliance and complete dependence on cars.

You know what I think would be cool? Something like a “car library” for a neighborhood. So a set of a few cars that residents have access to, that can be booked and used as-needed.

Would there be a way to organize that within a community with minimal government or corporate involvement? I drive so infrequently that I can already lend my car to friends when they need one – but it is a stick shift so that limits who can borrow it lol.

ED
ED
5 months ago
Reply to  dw

I love the car library idea, especially for things like out of town trips and outdoorsy things. Just have to get people to find a sense of community and get used to the idea of sharing, ha!

pierre_delecto
pierre_delecto
5 months ago
Reply to  dw

Cars are, indeed, bad but it’s still genuinely comical seeing social media-“car-free”-badge urbanists complain about their car services shutting down.

Cason
Cason
5 months ago
Reply to  pierre_delecto

Comical because of the momentary juxtaposition but obvious to understand, right? Or is this just a sloppy jab at a strawman stereotype?

pierre delecto
pierre delecto
5 months ago
Reply to  Cason

Apart from the juxtaposition being funny, the term “car-free” (as opposed to car-light) is ridiculous and unhelpful.

Babygorilla
Babygorilla
5 months ago
Reply to  dw

Theoretically, a group of folks could form an entity to own a vehicle and the ownership agreement could define use rights, admission of new participants, cost sharing, etc. Might be some issues getting proper insurance, but common ownership of assets is certainly a thing.

Paul H
Paul H
5 months ago
Reply to  Babygorilla

Form an LLC and write-off the vehicle’s depreciation and maintenance each year?

John V
John V
5 months ago
Reply to  dw

I’ve thought this exact thing about a variety of seldom used but big or expensive items. Lawnmowers, pressure washers, cars. I have a pressure washer I got some deal on years ago, used it enough times it was cheaper than buying, but still its deterioration is mostly from disuse than use. For that matter, even big cargo bikes. I have a house filled with things I would rather borrow but it’s so hard to organize it.

(And I realize we have the North Portland Tool Library, it’s just limited.)

Liz
Liz
5 months ago
Reply to  dw

I love this idea! I share my car with a friend informally. And I used get around for a while but the fees made it cost me money to share my car plus all the extra gas I had to put in. They needed to fix their structure!

Watts
Watts
5 months ago
Reply to  dw

Would there be a way to organize that within a community with minimal government or corporate involvement?

Yes. Get a group of people together, draw up an agreement, and buy a car.

carrythebanner
5 months ago

Free2Move, ReachNow, and car2go all made the same mistake of switching their fleets to larger cars that were impractical and unnecessary for city use. There’s probably a place for some variety in vehicle type (for out of city trips, hauling larger items, etc) but the baseline vehicle was never better than when it was car2go’s Smart Cars. All of these services switching to larger vehicles played a part in me using them less and less, and eventually, not at all.

John V
John V
5 months ago
Reply to  carrythebanner

Yeah I agree, and basically that use case was and still is covered by Zip Car. They didn’t know the demand they were filling. I loved those tiny smart cars.

I think I read somewhere that Free2Move basically used it as a way to offload car models nobody wanted. So it was probably a win to use the big dumb cars for that reason. But they weren’t big enough to be useful (trucks) and they were cars I never wanted to drive.

GGGreg-o-ry
GGGreg-o-ry
5 months ago
Reply to  carrythebanner

The Smart Cars were practically useless for anything but transporting two average sized human bodies. They also often felt downright unsafe to operate: the transmission / shifting in many could be generously described as “primitive” and the brakes were often so spongy feeling that did not feel safe. Only after reporting a couple cars for needed maintenance was I told that that’s how they were supposed to be!

There’s a reason Smart is no longer in business, and it’s not some lazy bias confirmation thing like “Americans are dumb”.

Don Courtney
Don Courtney
5 months ago
Reply to  GGGreg-o-ry

Lol, but Americans are big, they need the big cars so they can fit in the seat. So they should make a car that is just one giant seat.

Johnny Bye Carter
Johnny Bye Carter
5 months ago
Reply to  carrythebanner

Agreed! I used car2go a lot, until they switched to huge cars. I don’t want to drive a large SUV in a small city. Those Smart cars were great for the city, hauled you a friend, and a few bags across the city with ease. I even used the bike racks on them when in a time crunch. I used their SUV model once or twice, and then I haven’t used a car-share since. Bring back small-car car-share!

ED
ED
5 months ago

I would love to see a car sharing service that addresses the uniquely Portland (very privileged) desire to have access to a car for weekend hiking, skiing, camping etc trips. I specifically would love to be able to rent a sturdy vehicle for ski trips in the winter, rather than get chains or studded tires for my wimpy Honda Civic or get a bigger car that I don’t need the other 360 days of the year, but I haven’t found any car rental services that specifically advertise their cars for winter driving. Any ideas?

Nick
Nick
5 months ago
Reply to  ED

Probably kinda hard as a business model since I imagine the crash rates for winter driving are much higher. You might be better off with just the regular airport car rentals and getting some chains that can fit on many different wheel sizes?

FWIW non studded winter tires exist (the extra tread depth is also great for heavy rain and puddles), and I have two sets of wheels for my car that I “just” change seasonally, while I still carry chains, it’s nice knowing that I have better grip.

ED
ED
5 months ago
Reply to  Nick

Yeah, I figured that no one wants to advertise their cars for winter driving… Liability and all. Plus everyone would want them on the same days, and not the rest of the year.
In my fantasy world, I would “just” like to access a vehicle already set up for winter driving rather than deal with chains and winter tires. If we’re looking for a way to encourage “car lite” lifestyles, those are real downsides of car ownership and it could incentivize folks to let go of their cars that they are currently easier to keep (chains, maintenance and other hassles aside) than to try to piecemeal transportation with a bike, e-cargo bike, ride share, bus, rental car, Amtrak etc.
I suppose another solution to my winter driving problem is to take the busses run by Mt Hood Meadows. Or find a friend that likes driving…

John V
John V
5 months ago
Reply to  ED

Isn’t a regular car rental good for that use? I guess I haven’t looked into chains but that MUST be something that can be arranged since people drive over the pass for transportation beyond ski trips.

Charley
Charley
5 months ago
Reply to  ED

Stop calling the Civic wimpy!!!

I drive my Honda Civic all over the place in the winter. With chains on, that thing rolls like a tank! I have non-studded snow tires, which help if I have to go a ways to find a place to put on the chains.

I remember a drive to Timberline one day in May, after a 10-12” snowstorm that was such a surprise that ODOT hadn’t plowed the lot out. Subarus and trucks were getting stuck or skidding all over; the Civic just motored around like a champ.

During the 2017 snowstorm, when the City was iced up for a whole week, my ski buddy refused to drive her Subaru, and I drove her all around with my chained up Civic. It got us up Saltzmann Drive to the trailhead up there, with no complaint!

Watts
Watts
5 months ago
Reply to  Charley

I drive my Honda Civic all over the place in the winter. 

Everyone thinks they need some kind of large-format Subaru in order to drive in the snow, and it just isn’t so. Chains or snow socks or even good snow tires will let any small front-wheel drive car drive confidently into the mountains. Most of us will never break trail on a road with 2 ft of snow on it. For everything else, a Civic works great.

Pro Tip: You can even carry a dog in a Civic!

Joseph E
Joseph E
5 months ago
Reply to  ED

Getaround has some cars that are advertised for this. I’ve rented a Subaru Forester with all-wheel-drive and taken it to Mount Hood. The owner suggests trips to the mountains are a good option: “It handles great in the snow…so if you want to go snowboarding or cross country skiing; then this is an ideal car for your adventure! There is a built in roof rack on top of the car, I have put a Thule Carrying Case on top to hold your outdoor gear for Camping or Skiing. Just touch base with me and I will get you the key to the Thule. What more could an outdoorsy person want?”
Link: https://www.getaround.com/mountainskier?start_time=2024-01-06T14%3A00%3A00.000Z&end_time=2024-01-08T02%3A00%3A00.000Z&use=CARSHARE

Allan
Allan
5 months ago
Reply to  Joseph E

getraround has some major problems from the host side. they don’t let you charge per mile and require low-mileage cars (which will get driven a lot) which doesn’t give you a lot of time to earn $ and you are forced to let a ton of depreciation happen while your car is being rented.

my dream is to launch a competitor that would be for older cars (well maintained of course)

Joseph E
Joseph E
5 months ago

RE: ” day trips outside of the city” – I’m surprised anyone was using Free2move for day trips. It is much cheaper to use Getaround, or Turo and also convenient to use Zipcar, for trips lasting a few hours to a day.
Free2move cost $1 per 2 minutes, so it made sense for short one way trips lasting 10 to 20 minutes. You could use it both ways, but it was particularly helpful when you needed a car at the last minute due to a missed bus or sudden rain shower, or when you took transit or a shared bike one way but wanted a car later.
However, competition of from Lyft and Uber was strong: It was often only a little cheaper to use Free2move vs those services, and sometimes a car was a long walk away. Visitors and new residents know about Uber/Lyft but were less likely to find out about Free2move.
On the other side, e-scooter and e-bikes are just as fast for some single-person trips, especially since there are enough bikes and scooters that one is likely to be near your location, and they are easier to park. Between e-micro-mobility and Uber/Lyft, and longer-term car rental options like Getaround and Zipcar, there was only a small set of situations where Free2move was fastest and affordable.

Craig
Craig
5 months ago
Reply to  Joseph E

Joseph, a two day out-of-town trip for me with Free2Move, <$70 plus taxes/fees. Pay $350 up front for $700 in trip credit — two-day normal rate $140 — effective cost to me $70 plus taxes/ffees. Always select a car with a full or near-full tank, get reimbursed for add'l fuel up to $20.

Matt S.
Matt S.
5 months ago
Reply to  Craig

Damn, that’s expensive. I have a ‘95 Camry and I pay $77 a month in insurance and then gas. I change the oil every once in a while. I’ve had years of high maintenance but for the last couple years all I’ve put into it was gas, insurance and a free tire rotation from Les Schwab. It’s incredibly cheap.

Craig
Craig
5 months ago
Reply to  Matt S.

Matt — factor in your costs for insurance, maintenance, repairs, parking, fuel, wear-and-tear, and depreciation over the time you own the vehicle, then youll be making a nearer-to-the mark comparison. I spend about $150/month total for all my driving needs.

Allan
Allan
5 months ago

I think we need a public option

Nick
Nick
5 months ago

Used to use car2go a lot, especially when they had the smartcars which I loved.

Kinda glad to see this one go because the number of the relatively high number of time I saw people driving these jeeps irresponsibly, just not a good car for the city.

pierre_delecto
pierre_delecto
5 months ago

Dozens fewer poisonous GHG-spewing SUVs parked in Portland.
.
What’s not to like?

dw
dw
5 months ago
Reply to  pierre_delecto

Glorious, now those street parking spots can be used by suburbanites driving GHG-spewing SUVs into the city

Don Courtney
Don Courtney
5 months ago
Reply to  dw

If there weren’t suburbanites you’d have metro area of 600,000 people, like say, Spokane. Wanna live in Spokane? And the “only Portland” metro area would consist of increasing amount of young people here for a few years before moving on, and decreasing amounts of older people with roots in the area who invest in the community.

Cason
Cason
5 months ago

Yeah, it is sad to lose another on-demand car option. Our household has been able to get by with just bikes and the occasional Free2Move/car2go or Lyft for 7 years.

Once you buy the car there’s a sunk cost and psychological pressure to make use of it. It really is a kind of silly model for everyone to buy their own cars, at a high cost, even if it gets used for only 3 hours a week. Even more-so now with the rise of work from home and delivery-everything.

Will anyone be able to figure out this business model? (Or as others mentioned, a workable community system.)

Ryan
Ryan
5 months ago
Reply to  Cason

There are some things that just require a car, we are all at least partially trapped in car-centric capitalism… I have all kinds of theories about these services (including the previously mentioned off-loading of smaller vehicles in part to meet efficiency standards) but when it comes down to it Free2Move and Car2Go and ReachNow (which will henceforth be known as free2goReachAround) kept me from needing a car and saved many trips to a rental counter.

squareman
squareman
5 months ago

“I guess I’ll have to put that money into an e-bike and better/more rain gear,” he added.

Oh no.

Priscilla P
Priscilla P
5 months ago

Free 2 move has had multiple cars stolen and I’ve seen several instances of vandalism to their vehicles. It’s tough for a business to make a go of it in this environment.
This is what happens when we “de-prioritize” enforcement of our laws. Another example of how “Portland lawlessness” doesn’t help us reach our stated goals of reducing carbon emissions.

https://www.koin.com/news/crime/eleven-free2move-vehicles-have-been-stolen-in-portland-investigators-say/

https://www.wweek.com/news/courts/2023/04/08/thieves-are-hotwiring-free2moves-portland-carsharing-fleet/

Chris I
Chris I
5 months ago

Am I the only one that thinks having pay by the minute SUVs around town is a bad idea overall? It just seems like a dangerous, perverse incentive. Anyone can still pick up a daily or multi-day rental from Avis, etc if they want to go the “car light” route.

pierre delecto
pierre delecto
5 months ago
Reply to  Chris I

You are definitely not the only one who thinks that paying exorbitant SUV-rental fees to Stellantis is bad.
.

a daily or multi-day rental from Avis

The “car-free” could rent a Bolt EV with unlimited mileage for 30 bucks a day from Avis.
.
Oh…wait…I…forgot that EVs are worse than gas-guzzling SUVs because they emit far, far more tire and brake pollution!
.
Bolt EV weight: 1628 kgs
Jeep renegade weight: 1602 kgs

Jeff "Que" Pasa
Jeff "Que" Pasa
5 months ago

Can’t for the life of me figure out why a bike blog is lamenting a loss of cars on the street

pierre delecto
pierre delecto
5 months ago

The “car-free” identity in this benighted nation/city relies on renting and driving cars but instead of acknowledging this and using a more inclusive and hopeful term, the “car-free” cling to their subcultural identity like the poseurs they are.

EP
EP
5 months ago

Nice gripe, but I know you’re smart enough to realize that if people actually _share_ cars, then there are less cars on the road. SO, it is indeed a sad day when a car-sharing option goes away, as it means more people will now buy their own individual cars to clog our streets with.

Michael
Michael
5 months ago

I was quite excited when I first saw that Free2Move was coming to Portland to replace the previous free-floating service, car2go. With a bit of spousal cajoling, I thought this could potentially be the way to sell one or maybe even both of our cars. I downloaded the app to check it out only to find that the service territory ended miles away from my place near Gateway, making almost all use-cases entirely impractical.

The problem that Free2Move and car2go showed is that these free-floating car share services simply aren’t financially viable in a situation where almost all people feel like they need to own a car to be mobile. And if almost all people own a car anyway, why would they ever take the more inconvenient and expensive (after accounting for the sunk cost of the owned vehicle) short-term car rental option? Chalk another one up for the need for our political leaders to commit to making low- and no-car lifestyles viable in the city and region.