Carsharing – A mini-auto-ethnography

I have just signed up for three carsharing services in Hamburg: Greenwheels, Cambio, and Flinkster. Here is my experience of the sign up process:

Greenwheels

Greenwheels is a subsidiary of the Dutch „Collect Car B.V.“.

There is an online sign up form. It includes a mandatory upload of a scanned driving license as PDF or JPG. Signup nearly succeeded (on first submission it complained that I had not entered my driving license number, despite there not being a form field for that. On resubmitting the same thing it just worked). That was easy.

You then get a mail containing a PDF with your data that you are supposed to sign and mail in (snail mail). You are also supposed to send in a copy of … your driving license.  Uhh, well but haven’t they already got it?

Whatever. Ideally, they said, you go to customer support, and upload a copy through their contact form. So: customer support-> contact form -> attach driver license -> Submit … which …
…leads to a rather blank screen containing the sentence, sending of message failed (or a similarly helpful wording). If you retry, you obtain the same result.

As I had to send them a letter anyway, I just added a paper copy of the driving license. Hopefully, I will receive a card and my paper by mail soon.

This was a rather convenient sign-up with some unnecessary glitches.
Convenience: 8/10 Annoyance: 2/10

UPDATE: I received a card by mail, but before it got activated, I needed to proof my identity. You can either present yourself at some counter in downtown Hamburg for that, or you can identify yourself via video conferencing. I tried that and you go through a website which starts a video call in which you have to hold your driving license in the camera. Video quality was quite bad, so I guess my peer had to guess and trust me, that I actually showed my real driving license :-).

Cambio

Cambio operates in Germany and Belgium and allegedly is „mostly owned by employees and customers.“ (200 cities, 4,500 cars)

Signup is made through online form, there is no upload of a driver license, but you already have to type in the data online. You then print out an application form containing your data. The application form contains a postal address in the letter header. What now? Snail mail it to that address? Unfortunately, there were no further instructions or hints.

It turns out, you receive a helpful email at the same time explaining you to go to some place in Hamburg („Lilienhof – coworking office, Hinterhaus“), which is fortunately very close to the main station (There is a second address in Hamburg where you could go). You have to hand in your form and driving license personally. The office is somewhat hard to find (please put direction sign in the building!), but once you find it, it will only take 5 minutes to check your stuff and provideyou a welcome package including your customer card (serving as car key). It will be working within 24h, they say, and that you will receive a PIN by e-mail.

The whole process was rather smooth if you don’t mind the fact that you have to actually appear in person to show your driving license.
Convenience: 8/10 Annoyance: 2/10

Flinkster

Flinkster is owned by Deutsche Bahn (200 cities, 1,000 stations, 7,000 cars).

You sign up through online form, with hardly any data being required (no driving license information). That part was Quick and Easy.

You will then receive an email, telling you to go to one of the DB service stations (4 in Hamburg, so not all stations can do that) with two print outs of the form that you just filled in. I decided to search for „DB Information Hamburg Hbf, Südsteg UND Wandelhalle“, which is the usual customer service point where all train passengers go when they missed their trains. If you know German Railways, you can imagine the queue and aggressive atmosphere at the counter. Having queued for 10 minutes it is my turn. „Is this the right place to hand in the form?“ „Err, I think so…“. 20 minutes of typing ensue on the other side of the counter of which 5 minutes are spent looking for the number of my driving license ID. Meanwhile, the queue of angry railway customers builds up behind me, focusing on the remaining functional counter.

After 20 minutes I am told, „you account is enabled. Usually, you would get a customer card now that you can use as car key, but it does not work. The system somehow tells me you only want to use a smartphone app for authenticating. So I cannot give you the card.“
Glad to be away from the counter with the angry mob, I send an email to the flinkster online support to enquire about my status and my key card. I receive the following answer: „Aufgrund vieler Kundenanfragen kann es zu längeren Wartezeiten in der Bearbeitung kommen.“ (approximately meaning „due to many support requests, answers can take a while“). So, I spent 30 minutes at the main station, handed in two print outs of my application form (of which I got one back, with two stamps and the employees signature on it. What am I supposed to do with that? I have the PDF already… THAT I needed to print out two copies for?), and did not receive a customer card for unknow reasons. Blocking the customer counter for that long was no pleasant experience. At least, my account was enabled immediately and I could have booked a car the second I left the counter.

P.S. Deutsche Bahn, please give employees at the service counter at the main station of the self-proclaimed „gate to the world“ at least some BASIC english knowledge. I mean, like really just a little would be nice already…

P.P.S On the plus-side, the flinkster website is the only one supporting the IPv6 protocol :-).

Convenience: 3/10 Annoyance: 8/10

UPDATE: After some time, I received back a mail from the flinkster support, stating that they do’t know what caused the problem. But they posted me my flinkster card by mail, so at least I did not have to go back to the main station. That was actually good customer service!

Bitcoin volatility

I am ambivalent about the new digital virtual currency bitcoin. I have discovered it quite early and bought some when each of them was worth $0.03. I jumped ship when they were $1 each, and cashed in a nice holiday trip. When bitcoins reached $1000 each, I pondered whether I should be angry about the opportunity (and fortune) missed, but decided not to: life is much nicer when one does not worry about the „what could have been, if…“s.

While it is a cool currency, its value is essentially at the merci of a few players (still), lacking the backing of a state that can (up to a degree) ensure that the money won’t become totally worthless. How volatile bitcoins value is, and the impact that a few key actors have on its value is astonishing: When the main FX exchange, MtGox, had a crisis, bitcoins value dropped from 900 to 700 within a short time.

src: http://www.coindesk.com/price/
src: http://www.coindesk.com/price/

It is exciting to watch these developments, such as the first bitcoin telling machine in Germany (in German), happening.