Car-Sharing Instead of More Parking? LES Co-op Says: “Fantastic”

Seward_Park_Houses.jpgSeward Park Houses has welcomed a small car-sharing program instead of clamoring for additional parking. Image: The Lo-Down.

About 1,700 Lower East Side families live in Seward Park Houses. Located between East Broadway, Essex, and Grand Streets, street parking is scarce, and though the complex offers 400 parking spaces, there are 500 names on the waiting list for a spot. 

"Not enough parking" is a pretty familiar refrain from residents, community boards, and elected officials across the entire city. According to the New York Times, Seward Park’s co-op board has avoided that route and settled on a solution that can actually reduce the amount of space dedicated to the automobile: car-sharing. 

Seward Park invited Hertz Connect, the car rental company’s new car-share program, to take two of its spaces. The Hertz Connect cars are now available to the public, with Seward Park residents getting a discount. 

"It’s a fantastic way for our people to own a car without owning a car," co-op board president Michael Tumminia told the Times. The best research on car-sharing suggests that each shared vehicle replaces between 4.6 and 20 personal vehicles, depending on the city, and that car-share members drive less over time. 

Hertz claims that each of its shared cars replaces 14 personal cars. At that rate, if Seward Park converted just 64 of its 400 spaces to car-sharing, everyone on the waiting list would be served, and maybe some of those parking spaces could be converted to more productive uses. 

  • J

    Nice find. This concept is being pursued elsewhere, and hopefully will become the standard for new buildings.

  • A waiting list by its very existence implies prices that are too low.

    There are ACRES of parking in NYCHA public housing properties. Convert those as well to car share spots. 10% would be a good place to start. Frankly, people in public housing should not be getting subsidized parking for their $30,000 SUVs.

  • Hilary Kitasei

    It is not clear that the result of this will mean fewer cars ON THE ROAD. Imagine if 5% of city-owned cars that are taken out once a week are turned into 24-hour roving vehicles…

  • Hilary Kitasei

    I meant cars owned by city residents, of course, not the city itself.

  • J

    Hilary,

    To allay your fears, check out the availability of zipcars during the week, then check on the weekend. During the week, nearly all the cars are available. On the weekend, though, you better plan in advance if you want to snag one. It’s just too expensive and time consuming to take a car for anything short of a trip out of the city.

    I’d bet that subways, buses, and taxis will continues to dominate, as they almost certainly do already, even at Seward Park. I’d also guess that 80% of the cars at the lot now only get used on weekends, and then only for doing large shopping trips and going out of the city.

  • JK

    Per Glenn, the important thing is to properly price the parking. Prices should be set so some spots are always available, no annual permits, no waiting lists. The coop can hire a vendor and take some share of income for garage and grounds upkeep and in a capital reserve fund. It’s very likely that the non-car owning residents, or tax payers, are subsidizing the cost of overhauling the garage every couple of decades. Car share is fine, it’s just another form of car rental but with the vehicle parked on someone elses parking spot instead of the rental company. I’d expect the major car rental companies to knock ZipCar out within ten years. They’ve got economies of scale and should be able to under price Zip fairly quickly.

  • vnm

    I guess this means the Zipcar business model is successful if it is being emulated by the large established car rental companies.

  • Are there 500 families demanding parking at the complex, i.e. 400 with parking and 100 without, or 900, i.e. 400 with and 500 without? The higher number seems unlikely in light of Manhattan’s overall car ownership.

  • Ian Turner

    Alon, the perverse pricing structure is such that people have an incentive to get on the waiting list even if they don’t own a car, even if they don’t intend to own a car. IIRC, there was a Seinfeld episode about this insanity.

  • Russell Webb

    I live in one of the Seward Park Housing Corporation buildings. SP is not public housing and is not subsidized, but is a private market-rate coop. It had transitioned from a private limited equity coop a number of years ago into a private market-rate coop with maintenance/amenties which are still propped up by high flip taxes.

    There are ~1700 apartments with about about 400 parking spots and (as the article mentioned) a 500+ person, 10 year waiting list for those 400 car parking spaces. Monthly rates are disproportionately below neighborhood market rates. (Note: I do not own a car, have never owned a car, and am not on the parking waiting list.)

    Anything dealing with cars there is contentious. Any suggestion of increases to the parking rates is a political firestorm. Also, overtures during prior boards to enlist Zipcar for parking spots were apparently abandoned.

    The idea of converting a big chunk of existing Seward parking spaces to Hertz/Zipcar would be very difficult due to entrenched interests. The new Hertz cars are apparently consuming two spaces which were previously used by employee/management parking only and did not displace resident parking, which would have been very politically unpalatable. I think backlash about residents “losing” their parking may have been part of what killed prior Zipcar plans.

  • If Russell’s surmise is right, then let’s credit SPHC for smartly finding a noncontroversial way to get the carsharing nose under the subsidized-parking tent. The trick now is to find a way to buy off car-parkers (or car-park waiting-listers) a few at a time to create more carsharing spaces, and iterate as the success of the program becomes manifest. I bet that a very modest grant would enable a budding parking-pricing guru w/ community-organizing experience (JK, are you reading this?) to brainstorm, devise and sell a way to unlock the keys to the kingdom.

    A minor caveat: Someone should ask Susan Shaheen if she thinks her national survey indicating that each carshare replaces 4.6 to 20 vehicles would apply in this case.

  • J. Mork

    Why not carry Charles’s point further and also allocate some currently “free” spots on public streets for car-sharing as well? If the city were to charge car-sharing companies a price higher than nothing and less than what the garages charge, then car-sharing becomes less expensive and the city makes some money in the process.

    This could be sold as a revenue-generating plan with just a few spots here and there and then gradually ramped up. Maybe it’d even cause a feedback loop of more people getting rid of their private cars, creating more demand for on-street car-sharing spots.

  • J:Lai

    I live in a co-op with a parking lot for residents where there is also a multi-year waiting list. I put my name on the list, despite not owning a car, since an under-priced parking spot is always a valuable asset.

    The best thing to do would be to allocate these spots by auction, with a set “roll date” each year when they would come up for bidding again. car-share service like zipcar could be given the right to bid on spots, thereby providing a valuable service for residents who don’t own cars while at the same time increasing the total revenue the co-op can realize from the asset.

    regarding on-street parking for car share service, I don’t think it would work well because 1) you need someone to move the vehicle for alternate side cleaning, and 2) I think it becomes a target for thieves and vandals if it is known that the owner is in absentia.

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