ReachNow, BMW’s car-rental startup, is trying to figure out what malfunctioned with several of its cars Saturday night, causing them to lock up and stall aboard Washington State Ferries.
As the company investigates, the ferry system is advising ReachNow users to temporarily keep the cars off the boats.
Three ReachNow cars got stuck aboard ferries over the weekend, unable to drive off after they’d reached their docks. Tow trucks were called. Ferries were delayed.
A security feature on the rental cars sensed that the cars were moving — because the ferries were moving — but the cars’ engines were turned off and the doors were locked. Thinking the cars were being stolen or towed, the security feature activated and the cars went into a self-locking mode, leaving them immobile, ReachNow said.
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All three cars stalled after 10 p.m. on Saturday night, Ian Sterling, a Washington State Ferries spokesman, said.
Cars stalled at the Bainbridge Island dock, Colman Dock in downtown Seattle and at Mukilteo.
The Mukilteo and Bainbridge cars were towed off the ferries, Sterling said, while the downtown Seattle car was eventually able to restart.
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“That late at night it didn’t cause a huge backup, but it definitely did delay us,” Sterling said. He noted that the ferry system deals with stalled cars on its boats every day and crews are trained for such situations. But it’s rare that a tow truck is needed.
Laura Gonia, a ReachNow spokeswoman, said a similar incident had also happened earlier this year to one driver.
“We were working with the ferries to get permission to bring a tow truck and towers out to the location as soon as we heard about it,” Gonia said. “We’ve got our tech team out testing cars on the ferry and trying to work out the best solution.”
In the interim, Washington State Ferries is advising ReachNow drivers to not take ferries, for “the very short term,” Sterling said. But they’re not banning the cars.
Drivers who do plan on taking a ReachNow car on a ferry should be sure they have their members key card with them, Gonia said. And leaving a door open once the car is parked on the ferry will prevent the security feature from activating, Gonia said.
Owned by BMW, ReachNow is a subscription car rental service that competes with Car2Go. Both companies charge a membership fee and then charge by the minute or the hour for cars that can be picked up and dropped off at most any curbside throughout the city.
ReachNow has 700 BMWs and MINIs spread across Seattle.
“This was an intermittent issue but one that we are taking seriously,” Gonia said. “Our priority is the safety of our members, so our team is doing additional testing this week to identify the best way for members to confidently take our cars onto the ferries.”