Bets and Bryan were due to arrive at San Francisco International at around 6:00 PM from their second vacation this evening. To try and make best use of the day, we had booked a GoCar from their Union Square depôt for two hours between 1:00 PM and 3:00 PM. Our plan was to drive into San Francisco parking at Gordon and Kim’s house and take a bus to the downtown area for our GoCar.
The first parts of the plan worked fine. We parked up and the Simpson Hotel allowed us to use the restroom to get comfortable for our ride downtown. The bus was leaving as we arrived at the terminus but waited for us to board and we arrived at Union Square with a little over an hour to spare. Good job, too; having circumperambulated Union Square we had spotted no sign of any GoCar establishment. A phone call to the excellent concierge facilities at the Simpson Hotel revealed that GoCar’s online booking system’s idea of “Union Square” was, in fact a block away on the corner of Mason and O’Farrell. Finally relaxed that we now knew where we were going, we settled down for a sunny picnic in Union Square.
We picked up a GoCar and had an instructional video. It’s actually a 50cc motorcycle unit with handlebar steering and a twist-grip throttle. Much was made in the instructional video of the locking mechanism for the trunk/boot. Our unit was missing any such lock or, indeed, any catch of any description. It won’t open when you’re driving, we were assured, and we weren’t planning to leave any valuables (i.e. two camera bags) unattended so off we set. Well, off we tried to set. I twisted the throttle, the engine revved and we stayed where we were. Second attempt was more successful; I grabbed a fistful of throttle and we were off. You really have to gun these things.
The GPS-controlled guidance and instructional system talks to you when you are on one of the designated routes. In our case, it talks to you until you go over a bump whereupon any current guiding or instructing ceased. There are many such bumps in San Francisco and the minimalist suspension does little to soften them. When you miss a turn due to a skipped instruction, you are off the route and talking ceases until you are back on a route. I thought the GPS unit was perhaps a CD ROM and that it skipped. Carol discovered that the car radio like unit was loose and that holding it in prevented skipping. There was, presumably, a loose connection in our unit. We continued the tour with Carol permanently holding the GPS unit, now codenamed “Skippy”.
San Francisco is very hilly. The instructions tell you that the GoCar can climb all the hills on the designated routes but there some SF hills are just too steep. Our route took us up several hills that were a definite struggle for the game but screaming 50cc engine and automatic gear box. A GoCar struggling up a hill at little more than walking pace followed by a tail back of city traffic busting to overtake but unable to do so is a frustrating experience – at least, it was for me.
We ended up nearly back out at Hotel Simpson and realized we were going to run out of time if we completed our route so we bailed out and scooted back towards downtown in silence (off piste) until we hit a section that was on piste whereupon Skippy stopped sulking and became talkative once again.
Having driven down the famously twisty Lombard Street block and negotiated Stockton Tunnel, we arrived back at the GoCar depôt whence we had started. The GoCar booth was locked with no human presence but a sign saying, “back soon”. Arghh! Shades of attempting to hand back an Avis rental car in Petaluma but now we had a hard stop – Bets and Bryan’s 6:00 PM flight. Fortunately Mr. GoCar returned after about 10 minutes. (No restroom facilities chez GoCar’s booth.) I reported the faulty GPS unit but still paid for our extra 30 minutes.
Our bus ride back to Hotel Simpson was uneventful where the concierge facilities came up trumps again with a printed route to SF airport. Bet’s and Bryan returned on time and were soon yawning at home in Tomales.
In my opinion GoCars are an almost wonderful idea that nearly work. We did have fun but I have to say that stopping after 2½ hours was something of a relief. Would I do it again? No, but I am glad we’ve done it once. They are undoubtedly great fun once moving on the flat.
Our unit was quite clearly suffering from a woeful lack of maintenance after a hard season’s rental. Missing instructions due to a loose GPS is very nerve-wracking in a busy city. A map is provided but reading it in said busy city ain’t the easiest and that definitely ain’t what you’re paying for.
Carol has neck pain from constantly holding in Skippy to maintain instruction. Grabbing fistfuls of throttle to try and squeeze 11 mph out of a GoCar crawling uphill at 10 mph can also lead to a some wrist discomfort. The screaming engine can get quite tiring, too.
With several sections at 10 mph, the routes take considerably longer than one might think so avoid any pressing subsequent engagements and book enough time (not that they seem too concerned about return time, though your credit card might).