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All The Things I Hate! About San Francisco

Volume 3 – City Car Share

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By Ron Merk

This is the third in a series of pieces that I’ve been writing about my love-hate relationship with the City by the Bay as it likes to occasionally call itself. Yes, San Francisco seems to be self-aware, at least in the minds of the people who live here.

As I’ve said before, and will most likely say it again, there are so many things that make San Francisco the perfect place to live: a beautiful physical location, with water and hills and clouds, wonderful old buildings with charm and character, great public transportation and lots of innovative ideas from business to make life better and easier.


One of these great ideas is City Car Share (and Zipcar, too). I happen to be a customer of City Car Share because they have a “pod” where I can pick up a car right in the garage of my building. It’s amazingly convenient and has reduced my car use costs (from when I owned a car, and had to make a payment, pay for parking and pay for insurance) of $500 per month to about $60 per month. I only pay for a car when I’m actually using it. Most of the time, when I owned a car, it sat idle.

Mostly I used City Car Share to do my shopping. Once a week I combine my errands and plan a trip, usually making four or five stops to pick up food and other necessities at different locations from the Castro to the Mission to North Beach. It normally takes about three hours and all the driving I need to do for the week is done. Driving in the city has become a bit of a job for the dauntless, dealing with selfish drivers who haven’t learned to pull over to the side of the road when they have no clue where they’re going, or people who somehow got driver’s licenses but have no idea they can make a right turn on red. Then there are the bicyclists who don’t seem to think they’re bound by the same traffic rules as drivers (they are), and who fly though stop signs and red lights at their own peril, and occasionally, ours. But THEY will be the subject of another piece I will write in this series. Oh, yes!

But this piece is about City Car Share. It’s a great idea, and for the most part, the system works. That is, until a selfish, self-absorbed or thoughtless member forgets the rules. One of the main rules is simple: If the gas tank is below half, when you complete your use of the car, you’re obligated to go to a gas station and fill the tank. You don’t have to pay for the gas (it’s included in the rental along with insurance) because City Car Share has provided a credit car in the car, right on the visor above the driver’s seat, to pay for the gas. Here’s the hitch. Time after time I’ve gotten the car with less than a half tank. One time, the tank was empty, dry, and I had to ask two young guys to push me out of an intersection and into the gas station that was luckily at the other side of that intersection.

You may ask yourself, “why don’t people take care of their obligation.” In fact, I’ve been asking the management of City Car Share the same question for the past two years, two years in which I’ve picked up a car more than 25 times with less than half a tank of gas. Customer Service always apologizes very kindly and tells me that they’ll reach out to the driver, or penalize them if they are a habitual offender. Why have a rule at all, Customer Service, if you don’t enforce it? I’m complained time after time, almost always in writing, and often get a follow-up call from Customer Service. Their response is always the same, “we’re so sorry this happened to you again,” or “we’ll check the records and talk to this driver.” Very nice words. But the results have been less than stellar. I keep getting cars with less than half a tank of gas, which means that I have to fill up the tank for the jerk who didn’t take care of their responsibility, OR I would get fined for returning the car with less than half a tank. How’s that for unfair? It takes at least 15 minutes of MY time to do this. Who can I bill for my inconvenience. Apparently, no one.

I recently had another annoying experience, and wrote City Car Share a very strongly worded letter, insisting that I have a chance to speak to their staff when they had the next staff meeting. This request was met with…..well, it wasn’t met with anything. It was ignored.

So, I decided to post my annoyance on Yelp, and here are my two posts, one from June and one from this month. I also put them on my Facebook page.

City Car Share is a great resource. But like any “community” it’s about sharing the responsibilities and benefits. I have complained many times that other members are following one of the most important rules….to make sure the gas tank is at least half full. In two years, I’ve had at least 25 occasions where I had to fill the tank which was left at less than half full by a thoughtless member. City Car Share needs to get tougher on the rules and punishments for those who don’t abide by the rules. Why should I waste MY time taking care of SOMEONE ELSE’S obligation. The answer is simple: I shouldn’t.
June 30 at 6:51pm

City Car Share has not responded to my most recent complaint about a thoughtless member who AGAIN! left a car with less than half a tank of gas, a clear violation of the rules of use. I wrote a very strongly worded letter to the City Car Share management team insisting on a meeting with them to discuss this perennial problem of members not filling up the tank as required before returning a car. So far they have ignored me. In my opinion this is a clear message. Do I need to put it in words? Or shall I just use the first letter of each word of the two word message? I am really ticked off at the members who don’t abide by the rules, but even more so with City Car Share management who cannot or perhaps will not fix this problem. It’s simple: Make the fines bigger, or if a member does this three times, TERMINATE THEM, I mean their membership.
December 28 at 10:18am

Need I say more, City Car Share? What will it take for Customer Service to properly take care of THIS customer? You know, I can think of a word that rhymes with City, but being a kind and thoughtful person, unlike some of your other customers, I’ll leave it to you to figure out the rhyme.

Oh, no, this is NOT a rhetorical question? I really want an answer and for City Car Share to fix this problem.

I wrote this piece not to focus on the shortcomings of City Car Share. In truth, there are very few, but to point out that with a small effort, they could be a magnificent example of how we can find ways NOT to own a car in the city, to cut down on carbon emissions (they have many electric cars and hybrids) and in a difficult economy, how to save money. You’ve already done most of the job. A great job. So, get off your duffs and go all the way.