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Thoughts on Car Sharing

Some folks may have seen my post that appeared briefly over at Greater Greater Washington earlier today before it was taken down by the editors. The post was about whether car2go, the new car sharing service in DC and other cities, offers its members adequate insurance in the event of a collision.

My answer to this question is: I don't know.

(from GwenaĆ«l Piaser on Flickr)

This is a timely question because the company is running a limited time promotion for new members to sign up before May 6th. I have not signed up. I want to sign up; but the question about whether the service provides its members with adequate insurance is not clear to me. I'm very uncomfortable with the Terms and Conditions as they're written. Others who have actually read this document have shared similar concerns with me.

More broadly speaking, this isn't just about a single car-sharing company. I want to see car-sharing succeed as a transportation system. As long as there are services that are affordable, convenient, and most importantly, safe, then I'll be happy.

The main issue I have with car2go is that it's extremely difficult to interpret their contract. Much more difficult, for example, than Zipcar's (for which I am currently a member). I've spoken with car2go and they have told me that the service comes with insurance and a $1,000 deductible. I could take them at their word, but that information isn't clearly stated in the Terms & Conditions. Nowhere in that document do you see specific dollar amounts. In Zipcar's member contract, on the other hand, both the level of liability coverage and explanation of the "damage fee" are quite clear.

So again, are car2go's members covered in the event of a collision? Maybe. Maybe not. I'm not an attorney and don't have training interpreting contracts. Maybe the coverage advertised is completely legitimate, maybe it's not legally binding because of vagueness of the language in the contract.

These are questions I can't definitively answer. But they are questions that I do want to raise because I won't become a member until they are clarified. I also think the people who are already members ought to know what they've signed up for. Like I said, I want car-sharing to succeed, and without certain legal protections for members, I'm afraid it could ultimately undermine these services.

I'm told that an update to car2go's Terms and Conditions is currently being drafted. I hope it becomes comes available soon. And I hope that it's sufficient for me to set all of these concerns aside.

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