The silence almost hurts my ears. After years of choking and spluttering, nothing but serene calm. Did it work? Am I really ready?
It took me about 5 minutes on my laptop and a trip to the central office to register for the GreenGo programme. The preliminary registration is online – you fill in your basic details, and add a phone number, driving licence details, and another form of ID, and then you’re cordially invited to pop into the office behind Madách Imre tér to finalise your account. If you’re not able to make it to Madách Imre, for a reasonable call-out fee (2000 HUF inside the service area) someone will come and double-check everything’s fine with your paperwork, saving you a trip. They’ll also walk you through the app, showing you how to book a car, unlock it, and give some simple instructions on how to get the car moving.
GreenGo describe themselves as “Budapest’s first and only e-carsharing service”. They maintain a fleet of Volkswagen e-Up! cars which can be driven anywhere within the city limits, and even further out into Pest megye. You can pick up the car and park it more or less anywhere within the Hungária körút on the Pest side, and a fair bit west of the Duna on the Buda side, reaching as far north as Árpád híd down to Kelenföld in the south.
As with all electric cars, the range is limited – a fully charged e-Up! in full power saving mode and driven very carefully will probably just about manage 150km, but a more realistic estimate is between 100 and 120km. Obviously that means you can’t travel too far – you need to leave the car with at least 10% charge left, further reducing the effective range. You’ll probably want to spend most of your time inside the coverage area, pootling from place to place. When you do drop off the car, there’s no need to try to find a charging station, the GreenGo team handle all that for you, charging and redeploying the fleet over the course of the week.
Although, pootling is not really a fair way to describe the e-Up!’s liveliness. The chassis is tight, making the car feel responsive and capable, and it’ll get you from 0 to 100km/h in a little over 12 seconds. You’ll probably never open it up that much, but it’ll reach 50km/h in less than 4 seconds, which will see most fossil-fuel burners still standing at the lights by the time you’ve reached the speed limit. Apparently, it’ll top out at 135km/h, but this is not a car for the autobahn. That said, it’s not all roses – the cars are on the small side – they’ll fit 4 adults at a squeeze, as long as everyone skipped lunch. Still, for a quick trip within the city, most people can put up with a bit of a cramped cabin.
On the whole, prices are very reasonable, and borrowing an e-Up! seems to work out about half as expensive as getting a taxi. There are pros and cons – obviously, you can’t drive home from the pub with Hungary’s zero tolerance approach to drink driving, but you can park the car outside the supermarket at a reduced rate while you pick up your shopping. There are two membership tiers – a completely Pay As You Go tariff (called ‘Minimal’), which will see you paying 80 HUF per minute (which works out at around 15 EUR per hour), with 20 HUF per minute the engine is not running. If you’re planning on driving a bit more, you can take advantage of the Basic tariff, for which you pay 990 HUF per month, and in exchange, benefit from reduced prices – 65 HUF per minute to be exact.
This writer did the maths, and it works out that if you’re planning on driving more than about 1 hour per month, the Basic package pays for itself. There is also a daily cap on the fee of 19500 HUF, which is fairly competitive with normal car rental agencies given that there are no ‘additional costs’ for insurance, petrol, etc., although the limited range does reduce the appeal for longer term rental.
Once you download the app, you’ll see a map of Budapest, which shows immediately that the GreenGo fleet is quite big. However, it’s sometimes tough to find one close enough to be worth walking to the car rather than taking public transport as they tend to ‘cluster’ in particular spots. This is a big problem for the service, because despite the complaints of Budapestians, the public transport system in the Hungarian capital is cheap, quick, and for the most part, reliable, and most places within the GreenGo coverage area are within walking distance of a transport stop. The GreenGo team have recently increased both the coverage area and the size of the fleet quite dramatically, which has improved the situation significantly.
The other big challenge is parking – although this isn’t really GreenGo’s fault. Parking in Budapest is tough, it often takes a bit of time to find a parking space, which is all the more frustrating when the meter is running. That said, the green number plate entitles you to free, unlimited parking in any municipally managed parking spot in Budapest, which does help somewhat.
Overall, the service is very easy to use, well-priced, and targets a great spot in the market – people who think that they don’t need a car in the city centre. With talk of MOL launching a similar service with a huge fleet of 300 cars in 2018, it will be interesting to see how the competition in this area heats up.