“E. Assata Wright is a staff writer for the Hudson Reporter Newspaper Assoc. She lives in Jersey City, New Jersey.”
Hoboken isn’t first city to grapple with car sharing and parking
by E. Assata Wright, Reporter staff writer Hudson Reporter
The Hoboken City Council must still decide whether to make on-street parking spaces permanent for Hertz’s Corner Cars. Other cities have come up with compromises on the issue.
A system allowing residents to rent on-street Hertz rental cars for hourly rates has become a political football in Hoboken, with council members who support the administration of Mayor Dawn Zimmer supporting the initiative, and those who criticize Zimmer voting against it. The critics –including some residents and business owners – have complained that the cars take up valuable parking spaces in town, while the program’s proponents say it actually frees up parking by encouraging residents to give up their own cars and use the rentals instead.
Should rental cars take up premium parking spots?
The council has already tabled an ordinance making the 42 spots for the cars permanent, and last week, they postponed a follow up vote. A vote is now scheduled for the Feb. 2 meeting.
Car-sharing initiatives have met with criticism in other cities that have tried it, although they’ve been able to find workable compromises.
Parking issues not new
Cities that introduced car sharing a decade ago have – like Hoboken – grappled with the merits of setting aside designated on-street spots in urban communities where parking is at a premium.
A number of cities are still struggling to determine the best balance of on-street/commercial, on-street/residential, and off-street parking.
Some car sharing companies have tried to avoid or minimize the issue by leasing space in private garages. ZipCar, for example, keeps many of its Hoboken-based cars in private garages, for which the company pays annual fees that are passed on to the company’s members.
But private garages can be a mixed bag, and for the customer who uses shared cars, they can be problematic. Some garages are dimly lit and can be dangerous. Not all garages have parking attendants on-duty 24 hours a day. And locked private garages – such as those in small condo buildings, some of which lease space to car sharing companies – can be tricky for customers to access.
“If you look at our web site and you see all the cities we’re in, you’ll see that we’re in places like New York, Denver, Boston,” said Hertz spokeswoman Paula Rivera. “But the program is not one size fits all. We actually run the Corner Cars a little differently depending on the city. In Denver and Boston, we work closely with two apartment buildings and we have our cars in their garages. So the issue of street parking has not come up there. In New York City, our cars are in private garages because the company made a conscious decision to expand into that market, and that was something we initiated.”
Hoboken’s Corner Cars program is different, she said, because the city decided it wanted to implement a car sharing program, requested Requests For Proposals (RFP) from different companies, and played a leadership role in how the program would operate.
Car sharing companies and municipal leaders who want the shared car concept to grow have come to see street parking as key to the success of programs like Corner Cars.
Despite the parking controversies, the car sharing programs in all of these cities have continued and expanded since their inception. None has been scaled back or discontinued.
That’s no accident, according to program supporters like Hoboken Parking Director Ian Sacs.
“One of the reasons why cities have been willing to take on the consternation that comes from the decision to create on-street parking,” Sacs said, “is because it’s very clear, it’s been demonstrated in programs around the county, that by having high visibility of the vehicles these programs gain membership, and therefore results in more [privately-owned] cars given up at a much faster rate.”
Sacs said Hoboken Corner Cars currently has more than 1,000 members.
To make the car sharing concept more amenable to the local business community, which has been most opposed to the current designated spots for Corner Cars, Rivera said Hertz would be open to working with them to set aside Corner Cars that met some of their needs. She said businesses could, for example, have Corner Cars designated for deliveries.
It just takes time?
According to Sacs, if anything is to be learned from car sharing programs in other cities, it’s that patience is a virtue and such programs will need to be tweaked along the way.
In Cambridge, Mass., the City Council and Planning Board took several months to develop a parking law that sets limits on the percentages of shared vehicles that can be parked in residential neighborhoods, non-residential zones, and in commercial garages.
Washington, D.C. has over the years increased the number of on-street parking spaces available for shared cars. More than 300 on-street parking spaces are now set aside in the city, on both residential and commercial streets, for shared cars, according to the city’s planning department.
Back in 2006, Philadelphia initially set aside on-street parking spaces for shared car services run by nonprofits. But in 2009 the city expanded the law to open up street parking for shared cars operated by for-profits as well.
In all of these cities, the decision to pluck spaces from the small pool of available on-street parking spots was controversial and was met with some resistance.
“When we introduced the Corner Cars program in Hoboken, we were fully aware of these other cities and of the history,” said Sacs. “And we knew the on-street approach was more contentious than off-street. But it also reaps better benefits.”
Business owners have said that the Hoboken cars should be moved to residential parking spaces, rather than the permit parking spaces they take up now, which they say makes it harder for their customers to park.
City officials have said that the Hoboken City Council did not want to lose any residential spaces.
Sacs said Hoboken has already begun to see rewards. He said 61 residential parking permits have been surrendered, purportedly because of the Corner Cars program.
“The program incentivizes people to reconsider whether or not they need to own a car,” he said.
The city has offered hundreds of dollars in incentives to encourage residents to give up their cars, including credits toward the rental program.
Another controversy on the horizon?
Should Hoboken iron out its current Corner Car wrinkle, another one – which cropped up in Washington, D.C. – could soon materialize: whether on-street parking should be made available to vehicles registered out of state.
Under their contracts with the District, ZipCar and Flexcar are required to register their vehicles in the city. Thus, only D.C.-registered cars that carry D.C. license tags can use street parking spaces reserved for shared cars. A ZipCar that carries Maryland or Virginia tags can’t use the reserved spaces in Washington.
The requirement means that Washington gets back another tangible benefit – vehicle registration fees.
A number of Corner Cars parked in Hoboken are registered in New York and carry license plates from that state, not New Jersey. While it’s unclear whether Hoboken residents or elected leaders will flag this as an issue, it could be a concern raised in the near future.
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“E. Assata Wright is a staff writer for the Hudson Reporter Newspaper Assoc. She lives in Jersey City, New Jersey.
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