Want to drive an electric car around town for free? And when you’re done, just park it at a meter and not pay?
For a few weeks, a start-up company called GIG is offering residents the chance to try out what the company and some city officials say may become a key part of Sacramento’s fast growing multi-mode transportation world – where people walk out their front door in the morning and say: What’ll it be today, Uber, Jump bike, light rail, or on-street car rental?
The temporary free offer is part of a “beta” test for GIG, a company that is an innovation arm of AAA of Northern California. GIG stands for Get In, Go.
The company has placed 100 black and blue all-electric Chevy Bolts on streets around the central city and core neighborhoods of Sacramento, available for rent to people willing to offer the fledgling company feedback.
GIG says it will add 160 more Bolts to its Sacramento fleet by the end of April. That’s when the company plans a full public launch of the service it calls “one-way car share.” The concept, already underway in Oakland and Berkeley, mirrors Sacramento’s popular Jump bike rental system.
Drivers will download the GIG app, then use the app to find the closest parked GIG car. The app unlocks the keyless car. You drive it, paying by the minute, and park wherever you want within a geo-mapped “home zone” that includes the central city and surrounding neighborhoods.
If you park a car at a meter, you do not have to feed the meter. GIG pays the city of Sacramento for the parking costs. You lock and leave. The cost is $2.50 for the first five or six minutes, then 40 cents per minute after that.
GIG president Jason Haight said the company is temporarily allowing drivers two free hours of use. To get the free time, the rider must type in the promotional code “sacgigsit” when signing up on the app. App downloads and sign-ups are free as well.
GIG crews recharge cars, and the company has its own insurance.
“It comes down to convenience and affordability,” Haight said. “You can go to Golden 1 Center for as little as $2.50,” leave the car and look for another one when the arena event is over.
The GIG launch in Sacramento is being underwritten by Electrify America, an entity established by Volkswagen under consent decree after it was caught faking diesel emissions. Electrify America chose Sacramento as the first of its “Green Cities” for investment in electric vehicle usage.
Unlike in Oakland and Berkeley, where GIG uses hybrid Priuses, the Sacramento fleet will be all-electric and will be the largest public-use electric carshare program in the country.
“Sacramento is going to embrace this new technology and in a big way,” Mayor Darrell Steinberg said.
Eben Burgoon, a comic book writer who lives in upper Land Park, was one of the early GIG car testers. He said he sees a niche future for the business, allowing people to avoid buying a car and paying for gas – if they use it along with Uber, Lyft, Jump bikes and scooters, public transit and other carshare services like ZipCar.
“I would say it is adding to the tapestry of things,” Burgoon said. “I don’t know if it is a game changer. But it definitely allows people to check out what electric cars are without having to pony up (a lot of money).”
He and his wife each have a car, but have been talking about getting rid of one and using GIG and other services, as well as walking more. “That eliminates the insurance and all the other bills that come with owning cars,” he said. “We aren’t signing up for abandoning ship and going completely carless yet.”
Maya Wallace, a state worker who lives and works in midtown, said GIG cars, along with Lyft and Jump bikes, may be just enough to push her to finally dump her car.
She is among many, though, who question whether GIG, Jump and others will ever make good on promises to spread their services beyond the core area of Sacramento to include less economically advantaged areas. The city is helping launch a separate car share program, called Envoy, that will place cars for rent at chosen apartment complexes where residents are less apt to own cars.
City officials said they believe the car share vehicles will help decrease the number of people driving their own vehicles into downtown and leaving them parked all day. The GIG cars can be rented repeatedly throughout the day by various users.
Councilman Steve Hansen, who represents the central city, said he tried one of the rentable Bolts and was surprised by how fast it accelerated. “There are social responsibility reasons why we should switch to all-electric. The GIG car makes it fun to be socially responsible.”
If more public-share cars are in constant public use downtown, rather than parked all day in a garage or long-term meter, city officials said they may be able reduce parking in the central city.