Cars are expensive and, for most of their life, sit idle. Car-share company Mevo aims to make car ownership a thing of the past by offering cars for short-term use on demand. Would I give up my car for it?
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Mevo users can hire an Audi A3 e-tron hybrid car whenever they like, paying only for the time they use. Mevo takes care of all the costs and headaches of owning a car: rego, insurance, fuel, cleaning, maintenance and repair.
A subscription costs $19/week. Using a car costs 42¢/minute, capped at $16/hr and $96/24-hours. For casual users, Mevo has a plan with no weekly subscription, but higher per-use rates. Each trip includes 200km – you pay an extra 25¢/km for more. It’s set up to encourage short trips – Mevo says you’re beter off turning to a regular rental car for longer journeys or rentals of a day or more.
A Mevo subscription and five hours’ use costs $99/week, or about $5000/year. That seems expensive. However, I calculated my 12-year-old Mitsubishi Outlander costs me about $8000/year (I drive the New Zealand average 14,000km), including running costs and depreciation.
So Mevo doesn’t look like a bad deal. If it meant I could get rid of my car, I’d be financially better off and driving a flash Audi rather than a tired Outlander. However, the main benefit of owning a car is convenience – my Outlander is on my doorstep, available 24/7. How does the Mevo experience compare?
Mevo uses an app to manage the entire experience. Using the app on my phone was nothing short of a revelation. It had all the information I needed and was intuitive to use. The first time I unlocked a car using my phone was an “I’ve seen the future” moment.
Opening the app displays a map of your location with the closest car highlighted and the fastest walking route to it from your location. That’s one of the little usability features that made my Mevo experience so good. It’s then one click to reserve that car, or you can scroll the map and choose a different one. Reserving secures it for 30 minutes – you can’t book a ride any further in advance.
Mevo has 10 designated parking areas in Wellington, where you can usually find or return a car (convenient parking in the city is a big bonus). But the killer concept is “free-floating”.
Free floating allows you to start or end a Mevo trip anywhere within one of the designated “home zones”. Wellington’s CBD is one big home zone – you can leave the car in any on-street park of 2 hours or more, with no parking fees. There’s a second home zone at Wellington airport, so a car taken from the city can be left in a designated park at the airport, or vice-versa. When you drive into a home zone, an LED in the car turns from red to green, indicating you can park and end your trip anywhere – another delightful little feature.
When you arrive at your reserved car, you use your phone to unlock it. Before accepting the car, you’re prompted to check for damage. Mevo makes this simple. If you find anything more than light scratches and scuffs you take a photo using the app, which is sent directly to Mevo. It’s simple, takes a few seconds.
When you return the car and end your trip, just tap the app. Then, after a prompt to check you’ve got your belongings and the windows are closed, tap again and you’re done. The car is now available for another user.
On a simple trip you don’t need keys, as the cars have push-button start/stop and the app unlocks and locks the car. However, if you need to stop during your trip, a regular set of car keys is in the glovebox – you use the car as normal. However, you keep paying per minute or hour until you end your trip in the app regardless of whether the car is parked or moving.
And that’s it. The process is simple and effective. Should anything go wrong, there’s live chat through the app and an emergency phone number. I’ve not had to use either so far. Billing is through a designated credit card, charged at the end of each trip.
Tip: If you’ve ever rented a car, you’re likely aware of “phantom damage”. That’s where you’re charged for damage during your rental, even though the car wasn’t damaged when you returned it. To counter that, it’s good practice to take photos of the car before driving it away to prove it was (or wasn’t) damaged.
Mevo currently operates in Wellington, but it plans on expanding. The service relies on local councils agreeing to its “free floating” model. Discussions are under way to launch in Auckland soon. The next phase for Mevo in Wellington is to expand the CBD home zone into Thorndon and Mount Victoria, add additional “home zones” in suburbs, and enable one-way trips between Wellington and Hutt City.
All Mevo cars are Audi A3 e-tron plug-in hybrids. For Mevo users, it means every car they drive is safe and comfortable and, for the most part, pollution-free: they manage about 30km on electric power. In practice, I found about half the cars I used were charged up. Those previously used and left parked in the home zone (rather than at a designated parking and charging point) had little or no charge, so ran on petrol only. Mevo says it ensures its fleet’s emissions are offset at 120 percent with certified carbon credits from the Ekos organisation.
If your littlies need car seats, you’ll have to take your own. At least you know what car you’ll be using and that it has ISOFIX seat mounts. Mevo doesn’t allow you to transport animals.
There’s another car-share crowd in town: Cityhop. It uses a slightly different model to Mevo and operates in Auckland and Wellington. Cityhop charges by the hour and can be booked in advance. However, trips are less flexible – they are for a fixed duration and cars must be returned to the same park. Where Mevo works best for very short trips, Cityhop covers longer pre-planned rentals.
Mevo borrows its car-sharing system and app from Evo in Vancouver. When I checked their website, there were more than 700 Evo cars available to rent (Toyota Prius Hybrids). While most are in the city, Evo has “home zones” at the airport, the nearby ski field (all Evo cars have ski and bike racks) and in many suburbs. Vancouver has been dubbed the “car-sharing capital of North America” with more than 3000 vehicles available from four companies or co-operatives.
Over a couple of months, I made about a dozen Mevo trips. Each time I reserved a car, there were at least 6 available in the CBD home zone and I never needed to walk more than a few minutes. Having 30 minutes to get to the car meant I could plan a little in advance. I used the casual plan with more expensive use rates (60¢/min and $23/hour). Here are the highlights:
This was an ideal Mevo trip. I collected a car from the airport, drove 24km through the city and suburbs, making three stops along the way (none for more than 15 minutes) and returned the car to an on-street park in the city. My 69-minute hire cost $28.38 ($19.78 on the Weekly plan).
I took my kids swimming during the school holidays. The pool was outside the home zone so I had to keep the car “live” while swimming, parking up in the pool car park using the key in the glovebox. My journey was just 9km but the entire “live” trip took 128 minutes. At $44.16 ($35.36 on the Weekly plan), using Mevo was expensive.
City to airport
Taking advantage of the airport home zone, I took a Mevo from the city to the airport, a journey of 8km. It cost just $10.93. However, I also had to pay a $15 airport access fee (taxis also pay this fee), making the total $25.93 ($22.56 on the Weekly plan). An Uber hailed at the same time would have cost $20.01. Mevo was very convenient – the airport parks are right next to the premium covered car park at the terminal. I stayed at the airport for a couple of hours during the peak morning flight arrival period. There was always at least one Mevo car available.
City to home (overnight) to airport
Mevo has a night rate, capping the cost of a trip between 6pm and 8am at $32 (the cost of 2 hours’ rental). I took a car home after work, used it that evening to do my weekly grocery shop, then drove myself to the airport for an early morning flight to Auckland. The single trip cost $46 (it would be $32 for weekly subscribers) plus the $15 airport access fee. To compare, I took a cab straight home from the airport on return from my day trip. That cost $46.30.
Not just yet. It’s early days for car sharing in New Zealand. Right now, we’ve not reached the tipping point for convenience – at least for the majority of car owners. My Mevo experience was very positive, and the sums add up, if I replaced my car. But the big elephant in the driveway is convenience, and that comes down to the home zones. I live in a suburb, 5km from the city home zone, so Mevo’s cars are a long way from my doorstep. If there were a home zone in my suburb, Mevo would be a much more viable option. However, for my family lifestyle, it would still be a drag having a car one step removed from home. It would really come into its own if I lived in the city.
By Paul Smith
Head of Testing