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From the Back Office of I-GO Car Sharing

November 22, 2010

I-GO is a car-sharing program that provides the convenience and flexibility of having a car without the hassles of owning one.  Visit the website for more information.

A Conversation with Sharon Feigon, CEO

Sharon and I talked about a hundred things:  the Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT), Hybrid Electric Vehicles, the CTA I-GO Card, her own journey to I-GO, and more.  Each topic is worth its own post, but here are her stories about pilots, technology, and change that really resonated with me.

Pilot to Help Build the Game Plan

Back in the late nineties, car sharing was not a proven concept in the United State yet.  We got the idea from Europe, where car sharing is more common.  When we decided to bring the concept to Chicago, however, it was unclear as to whether the community would welcome that.  There is so much emotion attached to car ownership in our culture.  And for many people, their cars are extensions of their personalities and are a big part of who they are as individuals.

So we decided to pilot the program with four cars – two in Edgewater and two in Hyde Park.

The response was overwhelmingly positive.  There was no question that Chicago was ready for this.  But, from the pilot, we also learned that it was not very cost-effective to keep the fleet in opposite ends of the city when it came to servicing and maintaining the vehicles.  Any other company probably would have consolidated the fleet.  But one of our core objectives was (and still is) to make car sharing available to as many demographics as possible, which meant that prices must be competitive, and cars must be widely available.  We didn’t want to raise prices to cover the costs, but we also were not willing to pull out of either neighborhood.  In the end, we made the decision to stay in both places, but to fill out the route with vehicles.  This decision was critical in that it basically determined our growth strategy.

Last year, we wanted to know how well electric vehicles (EVs) would do as part of our fleet, so we piloted the concept with two EVs.  Once again we learned all sorts of interesting things from the data gathered.  We learned that some folks wanted to drive the vehicles so badly that they would bypass the nearest I-GO car and travel to a more distant location with an EV just to experience the vehicle.  We also found that not everyone remembers to plug the EV back in after driving, which can be a big problem for the next driver!  These are great findings to incorporate into our planning and design process as we prepare to expand our fleet with more than two dozen EVs in 2011.

Know When to Infuse Technology to Scale

In the old days, when we had just a handful of cars, we’d put the ignition key in lock boxes.  The member would punch in the code to get to the key.   After he’s done driving, he would write down the usage information on a pad of paper in the car, and someone from I-GO would come and collect these pieces of papers for invoicing.  While many car sharing programs in Europe still rely on this method, this manual and paper-based model would never have gotten us to where we are today – 15,000 members and a fleet of over 200 vehicles.  Just the administrative costs alone would be staggering.  And there was the user acceptance issue as well.  The process was very cumbersome to members and demanded that they adjust to our needs, when we should be adjusting to their habits.

Today, you scan your I-GO membership card on the windshield and the vehicle unlocks, and you can access the ignition key inside.  The vehicle tracks your usage and sends that data directly to the billing system.  You can even call customer service (24×7) through the vehicle if you have a question and want to speak to someone.  Being able to offer service that is easy, immediate, and secure is a big reason we enjoyed tremendous growth.  And introducing processing automation means we can transfer administrative cost savings to our members by keeping prices low.

A Lockbox from the Old Days

Today's Key Card Access

No Matter How Big the Change, Success is Certain When Stakeholders Buy In

Our mission is to reduce the cost of transportation for consumers, improve air quality, and promote healthy lifestyles and neighborhoods.  When I-GO launched, we knew that we were going against an established cultural mindset. But Chicagoans have identified with our mission so well that, ironically, driving an I-GO vehicle (and not owning a car) also makes a certain kind of statement now.

Sharon Feigon


A Few Other Interesting I-GO Facts:

  • A car reservation takes about 60 seconds to become live, which means you can make reservations super last-minute.
  • I-GO’s headquarter (the Center for Neighborhood Technology) is one of only 88 LEED Platinum certified buildings in the world.  Take the virtual tour here.
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