Subtitled: Quite Possibly the Easiest Thing I’ve Ever Done in This City
Alternately Subtitled: I Think This Means Pigs Have Wings and The Devil is Shivering
Or if you prefer, simply repeat after me: OH MY GOD.
So a few weeks back, I started to see these blue and white billboards all across town. CIAO ROMA! with a cute little Smart car. I ignored them for a while, until they hit effective frequency (thank you Media Buying class at Northern Arizona University for my BS in Advertising, no pun intended) and started sinking in.
What’s that, you say? Smart cars all around Rome?
But frankly it hit critical mass when one of them was parked in front of my son’s elementary school. Just like that: on the side of the street, in front of a school, in my neighborhood which is absolutely NOT “centro storico.”
It was my six-year-old, who just recently learned the fine skill of reading, who tapped my arm and said, “Look mom! You can find that car everywhere!”
Indeed, the car itself is proclaiming just that: “Mi trovi ovunque.” You find me everywhere.
But the best part of this story is the part where everything is super efficient, super easy, and super fast. (Super unbelievable.)
So, this is a private venture. There are already Car2Go car sharing networks set up in various US cities (Austin, Seattle, DC, Portland, and others) as well as various European cities (lots of the biggies in Germany, no surprise there, plus Vienna, Amsterdam, London). Frankly, Rome is a real non sequitur here. You mean a company that actually works, makes my life easier, and helps the environment, and did I mention really, truly works, is active right now in Rome? [mind, go for it: you may now begin to boggle]
Let’s do a little point of comparison, just to put things in Roman-style perspective. Now, y’all know I lurve my adopted city, but let’s not be coy: this is not known as the most bureaucratically efficient and functional place in the world. (Italy ranks 69 on the World Corruption Perception Index, tied for the honor with Kuwait and Romania, and I’m pretty sure that’s mainly due to Rome and Naples, but hey, maybe there are some corrupt people in Bolzano, too–stranger things have happened). So when something like this amazing service happens here, I think the collective excitement level (or maybe just my personal excitement level) is off the charts. Believe me, I had my doubts. Mainly because all I have to compare it to thus far is the service offered by Rome’s public transport company, ATAC, which, we all know has had a *wee* bit of iffy behavior in the past, as well as possibly being the most inefficient public transport service in, like, the whole wide world [this is called tongue-in-cheek so don’t comment and be like, I rode a bullock cart in rural India, that’s worse than Rome, you ignorant ingrate, etc., etc.]
I signed up for ATAC’s Carsharing program. I had to print out like eight pages of contract, sign them, scan them, send them back VIA REGISTERED SNAIL MAIL, along with a PASSPORT PHOTO, and I think a urine sample, although don’t quote me on that last part.
It took over a month. I had to wait for them to send me back VIA SNAIL MAIL a plastic card with my photo on it (despite the fact that I already have THE EXACT SAME CARD for my annual bus pass; they told me they couldn’t make it so that one card works for both services). Anyhow, you get the picture. All told, I think it took me nearly 6 weeks or so to get my card in hand; possibly more. That doesn’t mean the service is active. For that you have to do more stuff via email that involves passwords and secret handshakes.
With Car2Go, I went on their website, filled out a super brief online form, entered in a credit card, and then was helpfully told I was all signed up and just had to visit one of their various info. points throughout the city to pick up my card. (No faxing, no scanning, no photo shoots). Total time thus far: approximately 10 minutes.
Today I went to one of the many info. points, which was located conveniently in my neighborhood where nothing seems to be conveniently located, and I found a bright white and blue tent set up with two white and blue windbreaker-clad girls with laptops (Imagine! A company using wifi! Outdoors!). I told the girl I’d signed up online and needed to get my card. After approximately 1 minute and :02 seconds, I was given my card and a lovely little instruction manual that a monkey could understand it was so beautifully laid out and simple, and told, “If you’d like to provide your email address, you can have a free week of all-access here at our pool and gym, to try it out.” [Piscina delle Rose, if it interests. You know I’m all about that.]
I walked away a very, very happy camper, and decided to put the service to the ULTIMATE test: immediate pick-up. The big boon about this service is that you can literally pick up any parked Car2Go car you see in the city, so long as it isn’t already booked, and drive away immediately. No need to book in advance, although you can do that too if you prefer. Other best part is that when you get to wherever you’re going, you can end the rental and leave the car. RIGHT THERE. As in, not having to take it back to the parking lot where you found it. Also, you get free parking in the public parking spots throughout Rome, and you can drive where all the buses and taxis drive, right downtown (in the ZTL).
I looked up on my phone where the nearest cars were. There were three of them within a 10 minute walk. I approached the first one: it was available. I put my card up to the reader, the door clicked open, and when I opened it, after I recovered from the bliss of the new car smell (!), I realized that a manly voice had just pleasantly told me in Italian something akin to “Welcome to your personal chariot, my name is Fabio and your wish is my command.” (Actually it was like “Hello, welcome on board,” but a girl can dream.)
SMART CARS ARE SO EASY TO PARK. And: they are automatic transmission. This is so bizarre in Rome. Nothing is automatic transmission here. Granted, it feels a little like driving a go-cart, throttle response is slim to none, but hey, you’re not going to get above around 45 mph that often around here anyways. It automatically starts up in “ECO mode” which is for fuel economy, and so it shuts off every time you stop. Really kind of bizarre. Also I looked up online, and in one article it said ECO mode makes you “feel like you’re pulling an Airstream trailer” so that must explain the whole throttle response issue. Just call it the Smart-car-pulling-Airstream-trailer issue.
Anyhoo, I drove that puppy home and parked right in front of my house. And because I have to go somewhere tonight, and I really don’t like coming home late by myself because I have to walk by the prostitute who has recently set up shop a few blocks from my front door, which is a bit awkward, and we all know how efficient ATAC is … and now I have a car! Downstairs waiting! Just so long as no one else stops by and picks it up. It’s all very democratic. (Anyways: doubt that! I live in Rome’s equivalent of BFE! And yet it’s still in their operative zone! This is … I’ll stop gushing now.)
I can see real potential here for tourists too, if it’s just two people. SO EASY. You could sign up from your home country online and pick up your card when you arrive. There’s even a website in English. It says: EASY. ALWAYS. EVERYWHERE.
Swoon. I may never take a taxi again.
Technical deets: It costs 0.29 cents a minute, all inclusive (gas, insurance, etc.). There’s no deposit required, no annual fee. If you sign up by April 15 you get 30 free minutes. There are 301 in the city right now, with plans to reach 501 total. If you want more details than these, go here.
In closing, allow me to add just one thing:
That is all.