This story has been updated to include comments and information from Car2Go.
What if your local car dealer closed its lots, and chose to park its inventory on your street instead? What if rental car companies did the same? Better yet, what if all businesses, from bus companies to trucking operations, parked their vehicles on public roadways, rather than find off-street parking?
These are not hypothetical questions, at least in the case of a new car share startup, Car2Go. The company placed approximately four hundred of its vehicles on the streets of Brooklyn, which members can pay to access. Supporters herald a superior car sharing service where vehicles can be “dropped off” nearly anywhere. But critics point to a lack of oversight and adequate compensation to everyday residents.
“The company did not go through a process of being vetted by community boards, citizens or the city,” said Gil Cygler, founder and manager of Carpingo, a local car sharing service. “It has effectively taken away hundreds of parking spots from regular Brooklyn drivers for its business operation.”
Car2Go disputed these claims, advising that such allegations are inaccurate and the result of misinformation.
“Car2go provides a truly unique transportation solution, which we have personally taken time to educate the community through neighborhood meetings and the NYC DOT [Department of Transportation] before we launched,” said Adrianne Andang, Communications Manager for Car2Go North America. “Since our launch, you can find our team each week at different spots throughout Brooklyn, continuing to educate the community on our service, and how Car2Go can help enhance their quality of life by making it easier to get from Point A to Point B.”
Andang added that the company has already hired 50-60 people who serve as Car2Go’s “Brooklyn fleet team,” who are on-the-ground 24/7 managing the vehicles within the Borough, providing everything from maintenance to strategically moves the vehicles so they will not linger in any one neighborhood for too long.
The company launched in Brooklyn in October; before that, Brooklyn residents already had several car share companies at their disposal, from industry leader Zipcar to Enterprise to Cygler’s Brooklyn-based Carpingo. All of these companies have been supportive of car share and the benefits it can bring to the environment, reducing congestion and the need for car ownership. But they had also secured off street parking (at their own expense) to store their vehicles.
“Our cars are parking in private lots and do not add to already congested and difficult on street parking issues,” said Zipcar New York General Manager Anthony Fatone.
Accordingly, these companies critique Car2Go for choosing to “save” such a cost at the public’s expense, exacerbating an already difficult parking situation.
A week or so in service, and already @car2go in Brooklyn is eating up my parking options.
— Jeff Jablansky (@UncleWithCars) October 30, 2014
To its credit, the company did announce it would secure private off-street locations in areas with a high concentration of metered parking. However, its practice for the majority of its vehicles on Brooklyn roadways remains the same: even though the company pays a fee to to many other local governments for access to their residential permit zones, it has not agreed to do the same here. But perhaps the fault lies with city policies that essentially give away most curbside space for free, rather than a company that exploits them.
“There was no agreement required from the DOT to allow Car2Go to operate in Brooklyn, and a fee is not required by the City to pay for designated, off-street parking,” Andang explained.
Still, Car2Go likes to compare itself to CitiBike, but there are important differences. CitiBike docking stations are still primarily in Manhattan (though many do appear in Brooklyn Heights and a further expansion is underway), and more limited with respect to the use of public space, with infrastructure that has stayed relatively constant in terms of size and location. Most importantly, CitiBike went through an administrative process to obtain a right to place its bicycles on City-owned property. Car2Go has been able to mostly avoid any regulatory oversight or compensation to the public for the use of space.
And Car2Go vehicles will not only take away parking spaces, but will inadvertently cause more congestion as well, critics say.
“Studies by ‘the Parking Guru’ Donald Shoup have shown that up to 30% of all traffic in a city can be due to people looking for parking,” Fatone added. “Zipcar’s model completely eliminates any confusion as to when and where you can park in a certain area due to street sweeping or other restrictions, which is not the case with respect to Car2go’s Brooklyn service.”
Furthermore, despite incurring a significant parking expense for their vehicles, Zipcar, Carpingo and Enterprise all offer car sharing vehicles at rates which are 50% cheaper per hour than Car2Go.
“Not only are Brooklyn residents losing 400+ parking spaces, they are being asked to pay twice as much per hour in the event they need to rent one of the blue and white smart cars,” Cygler said.
But Car2Go claims that their slightly higher cost is offset by greater flexibility.
“Our service is 41 cents per minute, $14.99 per hour and $84.99 per day,” Andang said. “Though our hourly rate may be slightly higher than other car sharing services, members only pay for what they use. Our rate also provides a level of flexibility, so if a member is running late, they won’t need to pay a fee – they can return it at whenever time that they wish at any legal parking spot. Also, the per minute rate makes our service very unique as it reinforces that members only pay for what they use.”
Though Cygler claims the company also gains an unfair advantage by failing to pay an 11% car rental tax passed by the New York State legislature to close a budget gap several years back, Car2Go insists they pay the tax, just like other car sharing companies.
“The 11% rental car tax is on all of our invoices,” Andang said.
We have contacted the Department of Transportation and CitiBike for comment and can update this story if they respond.