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DriveNow works well when there are cars available, but that's not always the case (Photo: BMW)

For a long weekend away we decided to leave the car at home and use DriveNow to get to and from the airport. It was the first time I used BMW’s DriveNow carsharing service for more than just a short distance in the city. Here’s a brief report on the experience:

DriveNow cars ”“ and also the smarts in competitor Daimler’s car2go carsharing fleet ”“ are not available in our suburb, which means I have to take a short five-minute bus ride to pick up my reserved DriveNow Mini. Not a big problem, but a minor inconvenience.

The car is exactly where the DriveNow app says it is. The Mini, however, cannot be opened with my smartphone. While I’m standing right next to the car, the app still tells me I’m too far away. Not a major problem, as I can quickly open the car with my DriveNow card.

The rest of the experience was uneventful. Altogether, it took a little less than an hour to cover the 44 km from my home to the Munich airport. Parking inside the terminal, one of the major advantages of using a carsharing service, was easily available and the 31 euro total cost of the ride was in line with expectations.

For our return journey, both DriveNow and car2go let us down. Probably because it was the last day of a fall holiday week, there were no cars available at the Munich airport. The DriveNow app did helpfully show that it would be a short 7 minute walk to the allotted parking spots, but the big zero for available cars made that information relatively useless.

The experience then became a little like bidding on eBay. After 15 minutes, the zero changed to one after somebody apparently had just parked a DriveNow car at the airport. But, alas, before I could hit the “Reserve” button, someone else had already beaten me to the punch. Obviously, there were more frustrated car-sharers wanting to get home from the airport.

DriveNow showed one more car available seven minutes later, but, again, I was too late to secure it.  Cutting our losses, we opted for public transportation, which was less comfortable and cost roughly the same. When we were about to enter our train, car2go also suddenly showed a car available, but by then we had paid for our tickets and didn't feel like changing our plans anymore.

In summary: When there’s a car available nearby and your destination is in the business area of the carsharing companies, everything works fine. But when there are no cars available and you’re not in the business area, the whole experience quickly becomes unsatisfactory. There are similarities with electric driving. When your battery is full and you need to cover a short distance, all is fine. But when you’re running on empty and there is no fast-charger anywhere near, you quickly lose your appetite.

Would I use a carsharing service again? Definitely. But I’ll make sure I have a contingency plan ready at all times. New mobility is clearly on its way, but it’s not quite there yet.

By Arjen Bongard