My first time driving a hybrid vehicle from I-GO Car Sharing

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On Saturday I needed to pick up a bunch of houseplants from a home improvement store and it seemed like it would be a hassle to carry them safely on my Fresh Air bicycle trailer. Also, after a lot of procrastinating, I recently got my Chicago Card Plus, which provides access to the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) and I-GO Car Sharing, replaced after the old one cracked and stopped functioning months ago. So this seemed like a good opportunity to try out my new card by checking out a vehicle from I-GO, the nonprofit service operated by the Center for Neighborhood Technology.

When I logged onto the I-GO website, I noticed that there were a couple of locations near my home in Logan Square with standard Toyota Prius hybrid cars. I-GO also offers plug-in electric hybrid Priuses, which they say can get 100 mile-per-gallon for trips under forty miles. This results in up to two-thirds lower fuel costs and emissions than the standard Prius, I-GO says, but currently all of the plug-in hybrids are located downtown. The service also recently added several Mitsubishi i-MiEV and Nissan LEAF electric cars to their fleet.

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Illinois Governor Pat Quinn plugs in an I-GO electric car at the launch ceremony at Daley Plaza. Image courtesy of I-GO.

I thought it would be interesting to try driving a standard hybrid for the first time, so I signed up for one parked in the lot by the Logan Square Mega Mall at 2500 N. Milwaukee. It’s probably for the best that I didn’t check out a plug-in hybrid or an all-electric just yet, since the minor learning curve for the standard hybrid was a bit tricky for me.

Arriving at the Mega Mall, I couldn’t resist buying an elote, Mexican-style corn-on-the-cob with mayo, margarine, cheese and chile, from the lady who always parks her cart at this location. I always get my elote with the kernels cut off and served in a cup like a corn sundae. I sat on a parking stop on the asphalt in the broiling heat and enjoyed my snack, killing five minutes before my checkout time kicked in.

This was probably a bad idea, because by the time I placed my card on the sensor on the windshield of the Prius to unlock the door and sat inside the blazing hot car, elote grease was seeping out of my pores and my brain was not functioning optimally. I opened the glove box to retrieve they key and was amused to find that the key was a plastic rectangle you insert into the dashboard.

I was able to start the engine by pushing a round button on the dash, but perhaps due to the heat and my elote coma, I had trouble figuring out how to put the vehicle in gear. I tried different combinations of pressing the park button and pushing down the brake while shifting. I perused the manual but it wasn’t much help.

Finally I called the customer service number on the back of my card. The guy on the phone was very patient and helpful, but after 15 minutes of trying to talk me through it as I sat in the hot car, we still hadn’t figured out why I couldn’t get the car to shift out of neutral. I’m still not sure whether the problem was something wrong with the vehicle or just me being slow on the intake. I finally asked him to transfer my rental to a different car in another location and refund the time I’d spent so far, which he graciously did.

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The only other nearby car available was also a standard Prius, a few blocks away at 2402 N. Washtenaw, next to Haas Park. This time the car didn’t actually have a slot in the dashboard in which to stick the key, which confused me for a bit, but then I saw a sticker on the dashboard instructing me to touch the key to the round power button. And whether it was luck or a better-functioning vehicle, this time I had no problem shifting gears.

Soon I was on my way with the air conditioning blasting and some soothing music on the sound system, my earlier frustrations behind me. As I cruised to the big-box store in the nearly silent vehicle, lyrics from the hard-boiled rap tune “Whole Foods Parking Lot” by Fog and Smoke echoed in my head:

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I’m ridin’ slow in my Prius
All leather, tinted windows… you can’t see us
Everybody’s trying to park, you can feel the tension
I’m in electric mode… can’t even hear the engine (Shhhhhhh)

Published by

John Greenfield

John has lived in Chicago since 1989 and has worked a number of bicycle jobs, from messenger to mechanic to managing the Chicago Department of Transportation's bicycle parking program, arranging the installation of over 3,700 bike racks. He writes regularly for Time Out Chicago, Newcity, Momentum and Urban Velo magazines and works at Boulevard Bikes in Logan Square.

10 thoughts on “My first time driving a hybrid vehicle from I-GO Car Sharing”

  1. I was just explaining why I don’t like to rent cars – why I don’t like driving other people’s cars – why I don’t even like driving my own car but for other reasons – when your article appeared on my screen.
    I have been a member of I-Go for several years and have yet to use one of their vehicles because I still have my 23 year old vehicle. I dread having an experience like yours when it’s time to use one of their cars – but I’m glad to know you can get help and understanding from customer service. And I believe you can communicate with customer service even if you don’t have your own cell phone.

    1. I hope this post didn’t come off as anti-car sharing. It’s possible that the first car I checked out had something wrong with it, but it’s possible that I just wasn’t clever enough to figure out the shifting procedure. The blazing hot weather didn’t help me to calmly deliberate about how the thing worked. I think the I-GO customer service person handled this situation very well.

      The moral of the story is, if you’re checking out a type of car that you haven’t driven before, give yourself a little extra time to figure out the system, and/or research the procedures online. Especially with the plug-in hybrid and all-electric vehicles, there is a learning curve.

          1. I’m glad to know that I’m not the only one who’s been befuddled by their first Prius experience. The Civic hybrid is much more like a regular car – no special instructions required. I’ve driven them many more times without incident.

            I’ve got a reservation for Prius tomorrow – first time since my snowy night of confusion. I just went to the I-Go web site and made a good discovery. They used to have Prius instructions in a PDF file. Now, if you log in after making a reservation, go to the page for your reservations and click on the info link about the vehicle link, scroll down. They include distinct sets of instructions for 2nd and 3rd generation Prius cars (which are a bit different from each other). Now I know! I’m sending this info to my phone so I have it tomorrow.

  2. My first Prius experience was awkward and frustrating, too. In my case, it was a dark snowy night. The car was in an open unlighted parking lot and had no scraper or brush, so I was brushing it off with my gloves – real special with the huge rear window on the Prius, which needs to be fully cleared if you’re going to see anything through it.

    I-Go is supposed to have a quick reference card in each Prius for those of us who are new to them. The one in my car was missing. I ended up using my cell phone to light up the interior of the car while I was trying to figure things out.

    If I’d realized beforehand that they had the quick reference on their web site, I would have downloaded and printed it in advance, which would have prevented some of the hassle.

    The vast majority of my I-Go experiences have been painless ones. I’ve found it very helpful for many trips over the last 6 years.

  3. Hi All. Lauren from I-GO here. I appreciate everyone’s comments about the Prius. They are great cars, but yes, there is a bit of a learning curve when you first drive one. We are currently working on putting some snazzy start-up instructions in each Prius (not the paper guides that walk away). In the meantime, we have a handy guide for the 2nd generation Prius here: http://www.igocars.org/media/Prius.pdf We’re working on getting a 3rd generation Prius guide up shortly.

    As always, we are available 24/7/365 if you need any assistance starting your Prius. 773-278-4446, don’t be shy! 🙂

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