Sacramento Revamping Car Share Program After Gig Departure
Lessons learned from GIG Car Share in Sacramento are helping to inform future transportation mobility options
May 30, 2023: Volkswagen’s diesel emissions scandal had a significant impact on California’s Zero-Emission Vehicle program: buyers who paid for clean vehicles didn’t get them, and the state’s emissions standards were not met. As a result of a court-ordered decision, the car manufacturer agreed to spend nearly $1.5 billion in California on environmental mitigation payments and investments in zero-emissions technology to atone for the mistake. Part of that commitment directed Electrify America, a VW subsidiary, to invest $800 million to address the adverse impacts.
In 2017, Sacramento was designated as Electrify America’s first Green City in its ZEV Investment Plan, beating out other competitors and launching its Sac-to-Zero initiative. “The initiative was a three-part program that allocated specific resources to mobility options that supported zero-emissions goals,” says Fedolia “Sparky” Harris, principal planner for City of Sacramento Public Works. The $44 million initiative launched the installation of new charging infrastructure, the addition of electric buses, and two car-sharing programs: Envoy and GIG Car Share.
Envoy installed more than 90 Volkswagen e-Golf electric vehicles and charging stations across 45 multifamily properties in predominantly low-income and disadvantaged communities as a local, round-trip mobility solution for daily activities like taking kids to school, running errands, or getting to an appointment.
GIG Car Share, which is under the umbrella of AAA Northern California, was different: the free-floating, all-electric car share program allowed flexibility on pickup and drop-off sites and length of use. The City of Sacramento, Volkswagen and GIG Car Share brokered a public-private partnership to bring the program to life: VW purchased 260 all-electric Chevy Bolts for AAA, GIG Car Share owned and managed the cars, and the City of Sacramento provided the all-access parking permits for a fee. The service came with free parking, no membership fees and insurance for GIG users. GIG’s contractual obligation to AAA in exchange for the cars was to operate the program for three years.
“The city didn’t have the financial wherewithal to launch this kind of program on its own,” Harris says, “so GIG working with VW to buy the vehicles was amazing.” The GIG Car Share program started with a soft launch in 2018, then a full launch in 2019. Sacramento was only the second market for GIG, which launched a hybrid car share program in the East Bay in 2017.
GIG utilization in Sacramento steadily grew through 2020 and 2021, but then began to decline in 2022, primarily due to the pandemic and more people working from home. Keeping the all-electric cars adequately charged was also a time-consuming and costly process. In November 2022, GIG notified Harris that it intended to pull out of Sacramento, due to high operational costs. “I asked what we could do to keep the program and was hoping to start a conversation to talk about solutions, but that didn’t happen,” says Harris. Instead, the car share company left Sacramento in February 2023 after fulfilling its three-year agreement, taking the cars with it. That was the biggest frustration for Harris. “We needed more people and representation in the room to pick through the logic, and to talk about where things had gone wrong and how to solve them, particularly about what happened to the cars after the three-year obligation was up,” he says.
Raef Porter, transportation and climate change program manager for Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District, which operates its own car share program, Our Community CarShare, had a similar response. “Providing a large amount of public subsidy into a program like this to get it up and going without a lot of back and forth is what made the program work out and why it was successful up front,” he says. “But after the public subsidy runs out, the downside can be figuring out: what needs to happen to continue to generate the necessary revenue to keep the partnership going.”
By the time GIG pulled out, Sacramento users had amassed well over 6 million miles on the 260 cars. “This was a good option for people to have more flexible transportation, particularly for car-free or car-light households,” Harris says. “We had people that had come to rely on the program and were pretty upset when it went away.”
Now Harris and others are working on how Sacramento can regrow its car share program and earn the public’s trust back. “We have some ideas and concepts,” he says. “We would like to implement something in late summer or early fall, but on a much smaller scale. We want to put a structure in place that we can put our full faith in and will have in perpetuity.”