Car-sharing is back in Seattle — kind of: Envoy launches new electric service at residential buildings

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An Envoy electric vehicle that residents of Bainbridge Island’s The WALK development can rent. (Envoy Photo)

Seattle was once a pioneer for car-sharing, home to car2go, BMW ReachNow, and LimePods. But each of those companies shut down their free-floating car-sharing services in the city, leaving it without a mode of transportation many had come to rely on.

Now the tech-fueled transit option is back — sort of.

Los Angeles-based Envoy is expanding to the Seattle region. The company allows neighbors in housing developments to share an electric vehicle.

Envoy is starting with a 52-unit townhouse project on Bainbridge Island, near Seattle. Renters of the townhouses will have access to car that they can rent by the minute, hour, or day.

The WALK on Bainbridge Island is the first of several developments where Envoy plans to launch. The company has contracts at additional properties in downtown Seattle, the International District, the University District, Ballard and other neighborhoods over the next 6-to-12 months. At the Bainbridge Island location the cars will be charged entirely by solar power.

The cost to rent an Envoy vehicle varies by model. It ranges from 15-to-45 cents per minute or $9-$27 per hour. The lowest daily rate, to rent a Nissan Leaf, is $45 and the highest is $150, the cost of renting a Tesla Model X for a day.

Envoy is taking a different approach than its defunct would-be competitors by bundling the service with apartment living. The goal is to get urbanites to abandon personal car ownership and rely on a shared alternative.

There are fundamental differences between Envoy and the free-floating model used by car2go, ReachNow, and Lime — namely, Envoy requires vehicles to be returned to their pickup location. Free-floating allowed users to pick up a car and drop it off anywhere in the city, within a zone.

Envoy’s BMW i3 vehicles may look familiar to ReachNow users, as BMW’s used them for its own car-sharing service.

ReachNow also had a “Residential Fleet” service in Manhattan, and tested something similar at an office building for workers.

Envoy says it has vehicles at more than 100 apartment buildings, offices, and hotels across the country, in locations throughout Los Angeles and Miami. The company plans to expand to New York, Portland, Austin, Chicago, Boston, Denver, and Washington D.C. It has raised just over $4 million, according to PitchBook.

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