Imagine an environmental taxi, reserved just for you, that you drive yourself, and for about half the price. This is the concept behind Car2Go, a cooperative and environmentally driven initiative that promises to make personal car ownership, and all the hassle that goes along with it, a thing of the past.
The innovative electric car-sharing project was launched in Haifa on November 7, and follows similar schemes in Amsterdam, Madrid and Stuttgart.
For the first two months, Haifa residents will be able to try the plan without membership fees, and pay just 1.20 Israeli shekels per minute – more than a bus, but less than a taxi in the city.
In the first phase, 40 cars will be deployed, 300 hundred parking spots converted, and 30 electric car charging stations installed, with the intention of making another 60 cars available for use through December and January.
More than NIS 20 million has been invested in the scheme, which is a joint venture with German rental company Car2Go, which will run the scheme; the Haifa Municipality; Israel’s Ministry of Environmental Protection; and Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael (KKL)-Jewish National Fund (JNF), as part of its “Easy to Breathe” project.
So far, more than 2,000 people have registered for the service.
To use one of the new electric cars — an emissions-free electric Zoe Renault — users need to download the Car2go app. When you reserve a car on the app,it shows you the locations of vehicles parked nearby in Car2Go spots. You select one, and from that point only your personal swipe card can open the vehicle.
Cars can be ordered any time of day or night, and up to 15 minutes in advance.
When you’ve finished, all you need to do is park the car in one of the many designated Car2Go green painted spots.
Car2Go, a subsidiary of multinational automotive company Damiler AG, provides car-sharing services in 27 locations across Europe and the US and is the largest car-sharing company in the world. Most of these services are based on gasoline-powered cars.
The company claims that one of its vehicles can replace another 14 individually owned cars that would otherwise be on the road, effectively cutting down on city traffic, easing traffic jams, and reducing the number of passengers on public transport. Most importantly, the company hopes the new cars will cut air pollution, a serious concern for Haifa, which is home to Bazan Oil Refineries, the county’s largest oil refinery, by 20 percent.
The refinery, which is thought to pump toxic chemicals into the air, has been a source of controversy in Haifa for many years. In April 2015, a letter written by the Health Ministry’s head of Public Health Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Professor Itamar Grotto, was released to the public, blaming 16% of the city’s cancer cases from the previous 10 years on the air quality.
Pioneering green measures
Over the last few years the city has taken drastic measures to change this, and has become a pioneer in green technologies. Zeev Elkin, the Minister of Environmental Protection, who has overseen the Car2Go project since its inception, said he hopes that projects like this will make Haifa an example to the rest of Israel, and the world, on how to solve the problem of poor air quality.
“It’s just a matter of time before other municipalities will come see the progress here and ask how it’s done, and how they can also participate and start changing their own cities,” he said at a press conference last week.
Netanya is the next Israeli city slated to set up Car2Go in 2018. The car sharing scheme will also be expanded to the wider Haifa metropolitan area.
Though there has been some hostility to the scheme in Haifa from local residents complaining that the new green reserved parking lots are being reclaimed from coveted spaces in public parking lots, Elkin hopes that Car2Go will create an atmosphere that will help awaken city residents to the benefits of environmentally friendly cars, even encouraging those who own their own vehicles to switch to the greener electric version.
“We all think about car accident deaths when we hear the news each morning on the radio, but what we tend to forget is that every year across Israel there are 1,200 deaths caused by air-pollution, which is three times the number of lives lost in road accidents,” he said.
“We are desperately hoping to change that number. That’s the reason why we are a part of this project, and it is no accident that Haifa is among the first pioneering cities to participate in Car2Go,” he added.
According to Car2Go’s Israeli CEO, Gil Laser, this is much more than just an environmentally friendly personal convenience service. He hopes that money saved from maintaining a private vehicle can also help boost local economies.
“If you are saving money on your personal car expenses, it allows you to funnel that saved money into other leisure activities such as eating out or shopping, or even just buying more groceries at the store. Or it could allow families and individuals to save up for bigger purchases that will improve their quality of life,” he said.
In August, Haifa installed 25 electric buses in the city, and these now operate as part of KKL-JNF’s “Clean Car Revolution” project.