sharing economy

Caught: Madrid car-sharers stowing vehicles away overnight

Car2Go and Emov claim just a few users keep cars inside their own garage, but many say otherwise

A Car2Go user getting ready to 'hop in and drive.'
A Car2Go user getting ready to 'hop in and drive.'Jaime Villanueva

Dozens of Madrid users of the car-sharing services Car2go and Emov are keeping the rental vehicles inside their own garages at night, in order to have them available for use again the next day. EL PAÍS has visually confirmed how widespread the practice is despite rules that say the cars must be left parked in public areas so other drivers can use them.

Car2go officials claim that the people who are doing this are a small minority of all customers, and warn that they could be fined €250 besides the cost of having the car towed. Emov said it had not detected any such cases.

But several users have told EL PAÍS that the practice – which was initially reported by the online Spanish media outlet Vozpopuli – is a recurring reality.

I looked on both side streets in case it was a GPS mistake, but no. It was inside a building

Alonso T., Car2Go customer

Car2go and Emov are two of the companies offering car-sharing services through mobile apps. The problem is that some users have figured out the system’s weak point and have decided to make the most of it: as long as the car is in use, the customer is charged €0.19 a minute. Once the trip is over and the car parked, the system stops charging the customer, and the car becomes available for the next nearest client.

Unless, that is, the car has not been parked on a public road but on private property.

This means that unsuspecting customers who see a car as being available on their app map will walk over to the designated spot, only to find there is no vehicle there. Meanwhile, the guilty party has the car ready to go inside his or her garage.

The practice is most common in Madrid, where each Car2Go vehicle is used 12 to 15 times a day, the highest rate for the company in Europe.

Car2Go warns that violators could be fined €250 besides the cost of having the car towed away

The firm said they have 2.2 million customers worldwide and that there are always “exceptions” to the otherwise lawful behavior displayed by their users.

“To have one of our cars parked inside a private garage is something that rarely occurs, and it violates the terms and conditions of our service,” said a company spokesperson, adding that they are fighting against “these bad practices.”

Representatives of Emov – the second-largest car-sharing service in Madrid – said they were unaware of any cases with their own vehicles.

Gone by dusk

But the apps for both firms clearly show how dozens of users are stowing away the rental vehicles, mostly in the evening, in order to have them available the next morning. Very often the cars end up in residential areas outside the city center.

B. M., a regular user of Car2go, says that on more than one occassion he has walked over to a spot where there was no car to be found. “And if you notice, when it gets dark there are barely four or five cars available in [downtown areas] like Chueca, Gran Vía...”

Carsharing has become increasingly popular in cities like Madrid and Barcelona.
Carsharing has become increasingly popular in cities like Madrid and Barcelona.Skypistudio

Alonso T., a regular user of Car2Go’s services, experienced the problem on Wednesday in the central neighborhood of Lavapiés. “I booked a car through the app on Mallorca street, and when I got there it wasn’t there,” he says. “I looked on both side streets in case it was a GPS mistake, but no. It was inside a building. I felt like spending the whole morning booking it so the unscrupulous individual who kept it in his garage would not be able to use it all day.”

Alonso adds that he had the same negative experience in Berlin, where he used to live for work reasons.

Paco Gómez, another resident of Madrid, used social media to alert the company about people breaking the rules. “I saw what was happening and reported it directly through Twitter to the company. But nobody replied, nor was I offered a solution as a user.”

English version by Susana Urra.

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