After a successful 2-year pilot period, the Seattle City Council’s Transportation Subcommittee voted today to significantly expand car sharing services like Car2Go within the city limits, authorizing more permits and allowing up to 4 companies to provide services.
Car2Go has been very popular in Seattle. The service is reportedly approaching 60,000 members within the city, meaning nearly 10% of the Seattle population is a Car2Go member. According to SDOT, the cars are used for 6 trips per day, so they spend relatively little time parked in the same spot on the street, a fear when the service launched. Cars spend about 70 minutes/day in paid zones and 2.5 hours in restricted zones such as RPZs. There is no data on how much time the cars spend in unrestricted residential zones.
As the city gets more information about where car share vehicles spend their idle time, it has adjusted the fees it charges accordingly. With this new legislation, car share companies will pay the city $1,730 per car per year, up from $1,330. The change is largely due to an increase in the cost of parking in Residential Parking Zones (RPZs). The Committee argued that more money was needed to pay for the full costs of the RPZ program. Josh Feit did the math in his writeup if you’re interested. Car2Go’s Walter Rozenkranz spoke during the public comment period to say that the increase in fees “may result in increase in fees to our members.”
Under the new law, which will be voted on by the full council, up to 4 companies may apply for permits. Each company can get 500 permits, or 750 if they choose to expand their services to the entire city Limits (currently Car2Go’s service area excludes the far North and South ends of the city). That means that there could be as many as 3,000 car share vehicles available to city residents by year end. In practice, however, the number is likely to be much smaller. BMW, which operates Drive Now in several cities, is keen to expand to Seattle. Zipcar may also be investigating such a service, although it’s unlikely to launch this year, Councilmember O’Brien noted.
As a Car2Go member myself, I’d be excited to see more cars and more competition. I’ll be curious to see what the overlap in membership is. Will car share customers own 3-4 company cards, and hop to whatever service has one available? Or will different services appeal to different consumers? Will we see airline-like loyalty programs emerge? It will be interesting to watch.
If there’s one area I’d direct SDOT and Car2Go to work on, it’s making it more clear on the street where exactly car shares are permitted to park. The legislation spells it out pretty well, but I rarely have a copy of the Seattle Municipal Code with me when I’m circling Capitol Hill looking for a spot to ditch the car.