For the last two decades, I've used nothing but public transit, various bicycles, and my own two feet to get around the San Francisco Bay Area. But with the introduction of the new AAA car-sharing program, I’m officially a four-wheel convert. Launched at the end of April, Gig—an acronym for "get in and go"—allows users to pick up a car in one location and drop it off in another. Right now, that means any public, metered, or permitted spot across large swaths of Oakland and Berkeley where parking is not limited to less than two hours.
“There's been a shift from private vehicle ownership to transportation as a service, and we're recognizing this shift,” Jason Haight, president of GIG Car Share, explained to me. “We've noticed that many car share users don't have a vehicle—or are families that have two vehicles but don't use one during the week. One-way car share allows these families to get rid of their second car, which also frees up space on the roadways.” The service also connects AAA with a new group of members, most notably, “Millennials living in urban centers who may or may not have a car.”
How It Works
You don't have to be a AAA Member to join (although Members do get the added benefit of a 10 percent discount). Just download the Gig app onto your smartphone, scan an image of both your driver's license and yourself, and provide your credit card details. Once approved, you're ready to access one of the available Toyota Prius hybrids, which each seat up to five and come equipped with a roof-mounted bicycle rack. Costs are charged directly to your card and include liability insurance and up to 250 miles per trip, at either $2.50 per mile, $15 per hour, or $85 a day—whichever is cheapest. (Trips over 250 miles include a $.45 per mile surcharge on top of the daily rate.)
There are 250 Gig vehicles parked in the “HomeZone” throughout Oakland and Berkeley—the boundaries of which are displayed on the app and include satellite zones such as Oakland International Airport. The app also displays what cars are available, so once you've located one near you, you can unlock it with the app and push a button on the car's dashboard to start driving. I was happy to learn that Gig handles refueling, unless your travels require a full tank of gas—though I drove my Gig more than 300 miles in one trip and still had gas remaining. If you do run low, just use the provided gas card to fill up at the next station.
After your first trip, you'll also receive in the mail a Gig Card, which uses radio-frequency identification to lock and unlock the vehicle without the app. The card, I learned, comes in handy especially when cell phone coverage is spotty. Because of this, plan to make your initial trip local. Save more remote drives for when your card arrives—typically within a few days after first using Gig. (Should you run into trouble, Gig's customer service is also on-hand 24 hours a day to assist and answer calls quickly. I called them quite a few times while acquainting myself with the vehicle, and they were always helpful.)
At Your Service
By its nature, Gig is intended to be on demand. According to Haight, it’s all about the “instant gratification of being able to see a car, walk up to it, and use it.” Thus, cars can only be reserved up to a half-hour ahead of time—assuring that one is available for you when you need it. Once your reservation time on a vehicle expires, you'll have to wait two hours to reserve that same car in order to give an opportunity to another Gig user. But if you’re in a hurry, there will surely be others around that are up for grabs. I reserved a car about three blocks away from Oakland's Rockridge BART station, but when I found one even closer upon arrival, I cancelled my initial reservation and hopped right in.
I was headed out of town, but Gig is particularly convenient for around-town errands. The app's "park and come back" option means you can drive your Gig car to the grocery store and know that it will be there when you finish shopping.
Haight says that AAA launched the program in Oakland and Berkeley because “they’re two of the most progressive cities when it comes to transportation policies.” AAA has plans to expand the service, but in the meantime, Gig is well worth a BART ride to Oakland for this San Francisco local. After 22 years car-free, I feel like I finally have a new set of wheels—and it's exactly the kind of smart car I wanted.