Read Caption
Car2go dedicated parking spaces in Austin, Texas (Photograph by Michael Coghlan/Flickr)

Car Sharing Redefines the Value of a Parking Space

For many cities, car sharing has presented a compelling solution to public transit crowding and traffic snarls (see related story: “Car Sharing Widens the Lanes of Access for City Drivers“). Services such as Zipcar and Car2go offer the opportunity to cut the number of cars on city streets, but a price for hosting those services’ fleets is paid in the loss of precious, centrally located parking spots.

The potential impact of car-sharing fleets on parking availability for car owners was enough to make the community of Manhattan Beach, California, pause this week before approving a deal with the Daimler-owned Car2go. City council members said that a parking study was needed before they could support Car2go’s proposal to bring the service into nine cities in the South Bay area of Los Angeles.

Ironically, taking curbside parking spots out of the general pool and dedicating them to shared vehicles is seen as part of the solution to the parking and congestion problem. It’s an idea that has met some success—as well as some complaints from residents—in Hoboken, New Jersey, one of the most densely populated areas in the United States.

Located just across the Hudson River from Manhattan, Hoboken has dedicated more than 40 of its 9,000 on-street parking spaces to a car-share program known as Corner Cars. Hertz operates the program and pays the city $100 per spot each month, while charging members $5 to $16 an hour for the cars. Bright green paint marks off pairs of spots reserved for Corner Cars every few blocks.

Two years after the program’s launch, about a quarter of Corner Cars’ 3,000 members have reportedly given up their own cars or put off buying a new one because of access to the shared wheels. (See related story: “To Curb Driving, Cities Cut Down on Car Parking“)

Of course, some residents complain that they would gladly pay $100 to rent a prime parking spot—never mind the city’s argument that one spot can provide convenience to many more residents if it is occupied by a shared vehicle instead of a private car.

Some cities, on the other hand, are capitalizing on the high value of convenient city parking. Washington, D.C. has opted to auction off dozens of spots formerly awarded for free to Zipcar. Last year, the District set a minimum bid price of $3,600 per space, and drew offers from three car sharing companies. Zipcar went from having 86 parking spots to only 12 spots in the slightly smaller pool of 84 spots now dedicated to shared cars.

In San Francisco, meanwhile, securing on-street parking and charging locations remains one of the challenges for BMW DriveNow electric fleet, which launched in the city this past August. For now, says DriveNow CEO Richard Steinberg, the solution is to seek private parking locations.

On the other side of the globe, in a country with one of the highest car ownership rates of all the advanced nations in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Sydney, Australia, is now home to more than 9,000 car-sharing members. That’s up from 4,000 members two years ago, and by 2016 the city aims to boost car-sharing among its residents to 10 percent of all households for an estimated 15,000 members in all.

Among other forms of support for the shift, the city provides parking at curbside and in city car parks while integrating car sharing into urban renewal areas. Viewing car sharing as a “crucial complement to a sustainable transport system,” the city writes that “The availability of shared cars provides the peace-of-mind and flexibility needed for residents who have chosen to base their travel predominantly on public transport, walking and cycling.”