Hoboken Launches First Citywide Car-Sharing Program in U.S.

Today marks the launch of what Hoboken officials are calling the first citywide car-sharing initiative in the country, with 42 shared cars parked on the streets of the mile-square city. The "Corner Cars" program, which is intended to reduce car-ownership rates, could provide a model for expanding car-sharing across the Hudson. What happens in Hoboken will demonstrate how much car-sharing can reduce traffic in areas where people already don’t drive very much.

double_parking.jpgCar-sharing could help reduce double-parking in Hoboken, where curb space is at a premium. Photo: Ian Sacs/Planetizen

Car-sharing already has a history in Hoboken, which is where ZipCar service debuted in New Jersey, according to Ian Sacs, the city’s director of transportation and parking. Researchers found that 17.6 households gave up a car for each ZipCar on Hoboken’s streets.

Hoboken’s unique demographics and travel patterns make car-sharing a particularly powerful tool there. The city contains a high volume of cars compared to the space available to store them. Around 60 percent of residents commute by transit, bicycle, or walking, but still own cars for recreational use, said Sacs. Shared vehicles could save many of those residents significantly, while reducing incentives to drive. Hoboken is also compact enough that, even with just 21 car-sharing locations, 90 percent of the population can walk to a shared car in five minutes or less.

Car-sharing is generally believed to reduce both car ownership and the overall amount that people drive, but some worry that in areas where people drive relatively little, the effect of widespread car-sharing could be minimal. If enough car-free households start driving shared cars, it could even shift more trips to the automobile.

The Hoboken program should answer some of these unknowns about car-sharing. The terms of Hoboken’s contract with the car-sharing provider, Hertz, require the company to conduct surveys of its membership to determine how their travel behavior changes. The city will also be tracking the movement of car-sharing memberships and residential parking permits to independently assess how much the program affects car ownership. Those are numbers that New York and other cities will likely be anxious to take a look at. 

Besides reducing car ownership rates, car-sharing promises other benefits to Hoboken. First, the city has figured out a way to use the car-share parking sites to promote pedestrian safety. Although New Jersey state law forbids parking too close to an intersection, in the Hoboken parking crunch, drivers regularly encroach on that safety zone. The car-sharing sites will occupy the two spaces closest to the intersection, said Sacs, which should keep cars back. "It’s very clear that you can’t park in front of them," he said.

Fiscally, car-sharing is a net gain for Hoboken. Hertz is paying the city $100 per month for each space, for a total of around $50,000. Because car-sharing is only being placed on residential streets, no meter revenue is lost. (The foregone revenue from residential parking permits, which cost only $15 per year, will not be substantial.)

Compared to current rates in parking garages, said Sacs, $100 per month "is still relatively cheap for a profiting business to pay," but all parties needed to make sure the program gets off to a successful start during the initial two-year contract with Hertz. "After two years, when this program has been successful," continued Sacs, "it’s very likely that the next round of bidding will offer us twice the current amount."

Sacs sees the program eventually scaling up to between 300 and 500 shared cars. In a city with about 17,000 residential parking permits, that could put a big dent in car ownership.

While Hoboken has used its on-street space for shared vehicles, New York’s Department of City Planning recently announced an initiative to encourage shared cars only in off-street garages. Though the NYC Department of Transportation claims that alternate side parking and snow removal pose logistical challenges for car-sharing, Hoboken officials believe they’ve solved those problems. The city worked out an agreement with Hertz to schedule car maintenance for the same time as street cleaning (an easier feat in a city the size of Hoboken). If the car doesn’t get moved and the area around it becomes dirty, the company is on the hook for cleaning it. The company is also responsible for clearing their cars out from large snowstorms. 

The real contrast, however, may be the coordination between parking policy and transportation policy. When hiring Sacs, Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer announced in a press release that the city’s Parking Utility would be changing its name to the Transportation and Parking Utility, "to make clear that transportation and parking are related issues that will be addressed in an integrated manner in her administration."

The explicit link between transportation and parking policy has yielded this attempt to address the Hoboken parking crunch by reducing demand for parking, instead of futilely trying to build more supply and generating more traffic in the process. Here in New York, however, parking policy — especially decisions about off-street parking — is largely divorced from transportation goals and from PlaNYC, the city’s supposedly integrated sustainability initiative.

  • Anyone who’s regularly attended a Community Board Transportation committee meeting will know that one of the constant stream of requests is for buildings to clear the space in front of their building so that there is a place for local residents to load/unload out of cars, taxis, etc. The same response is given to everyone: if everyone did this, there would be no regular parking.

    But I think car share might be an interesting alternative to this. Perhaps each mulit-unit apartment building could have a car share in front. Making that option available for buildings to opt into, especially if it was a large enough space that there could be a loading/unloading area, many buildings would jump at this chance. I know mine would.

  • Andy

    What do you mean by “First Citywide Car-Sharing Program in U.S.”? There are many cities now with carsharing programs that have been running for years. Did I miss something here?

  • lic lovr

    andy – i think they mean that it will reach across the entire geographic area of the city. (easy to achieve since Hoboken is so small, but, a great chance to demonstrate and experiment more extensive car-sharing for nyc and other densely builty metro areas)

  • jayackroyd

    Andy,

    I think they mean municipal car sharing, rather than private. ZipCar, here in NYC, rents space from local garages, not from the City.

    Alternate side would be a very significant issue in NYC. weekday mornings are not high volume rental times. But the idea of space in front of residential buildings is a good one! If the city rented the spaces out in pairs and made the _buildings_ responsible for moving the cars, that could work out very well.

    For example, my 42 unit building has a “sister building,” built at the same time, with the same layout. It’s is one block north and faces the opposite side. Reserving the space in front of each for the shared car would allow the super, or someone else, move the car for street cleaning. This would not be hard!

  • Andy

    If it’s city run, that might explain it. I’m not sure that’s really much different though. I work for nonprofit carsharing organization, and many of our locations are city-designated on-street spots in business districts and neighborhoods.

  • Ayana

    I agree, the title is misleading. I have been a member of City Car Share for over 5 years in San Francisco and Zip Car has been here for a while too.”Citywide” connotes that it will cover an entire city for the first time – not it’s rental logistics, but certainly exciting news nonetheless.Let’s get more cars off the street and eventually transition to a life without petroleum altogether!

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  • Juan Solano

     I think it’s a an idle idea…”Car sharing”….program in U.S…….! This system could be helped double parking in Hoboken,

  • Juan Solano

    I think it’s a positive idea………………….!

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  • Compared to current rates in parking garages, said Sacs, $100 per month
    “is still relatively cheap for a profiting business to pay,” but all
    parties needed to make sure the program gets off to a successful start
    during the initial two-year contract with Hertz. “After two years, when
    this program has been successful,” continued Sacs, “it’s very likely
    that the next round of bidding will offer us twice the current amount.” 

  • Car can shared by people if their understanding is okay and it will be helpful for reducing traffic jam. But it can create problem also.

  • Car can shared by people if their understanding is okay and it will be
    helpful for reducing traffic jam. But it can create problem also.

  • custom admission essay, Nice article  instead of futilely trying to build more supply and generating more traffic in the process. Here in New York.

  • shakwot hossain

    car-sharing is a net gain for Hoboken. Hertz is paying the city $100 per
    month for each space, for a total of around $50,000. Because
    car-sharing is only being placed on residential streets, no meter
    revenue is lost. (The foregone [url=http://www.eco-nat]eco-nat[/url]

  • Melissa Blanco

    Andy, the Mayor of Zimmer is a marketer. This is her “spin” on Corner Cars.

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