Encouraging carsharing with smart parking policies

Shareable had a post yesterday about parking policies that can encourage carsharing. That blog post got me thinking and I came up with a couple of ideas of my own.

Set a bold vision
Setting a bold vision can be helpful for advocates who want these policy changes and for cities that want to reduce the amount of space dedicated to housing cars. The first sentence of the Shareable article suggests a great vision: carsharing on every block. Having a dedicated carsharing parking space on each block would enable much greater expansion of the carsharing network and would further increase the visibility of carsharing to passersby. According to the numbers in the Innovative Mobility study mentioned in the Shareable article (50,000 users in the SF Bay Area and 1,100 shared cars), each shared car supports an average of 45 users. And according to City CarShare CEO Rick Hutchinson interviewed in this Channel 7 news clip also mentioned in the article, two-thirds of CCS members report getting rid of a second car or not buying a car in the first place. Thus, in a best-case scenario, each carsharing vehicle on a block could keep as many as 30 cars from needing to be parked in or near that block. Establishing a bold vision of what we’re aiming for can help us decide how to get there — and maybe it’s not just one carshare parking space per block, maybe it’s one on each side of the block, or…

Set parking rates that are fair and efficient
Cities should think long-range and comprehensively when setting annual rates for on-street parking and base these prices on a vision of what they want to encourage and discourage. Not every city is like San Francisco, which has both a for-profit and a nonprofit carsharing organization. But even cities that don’t have two (or any!) carsharing organizations might want to start thinking now about how to structure parking rates, particularly since peer-to-peer carsharing has the potential to expand exponentially across the country and around the world.

I suggest that there could be different price tiers that range from low to high. At the lowest end of the spectrum would be bicycle parking which should be free, since bicycles take up the least space, don’t emit any air pollution, and help to keep the rider physically fit — the latter two of which reduce costs to society. As mentioned in the Shareable article, the highest price would be paid by private vehicle owners who aren’t sharing their vehicles. This price would be set as close as possible to the market rate.

In between these two extremes of free and market rate, I see three tiers of prices lying somewhere in the middle:

  • Nonprofit carsharing fleets (such as City CarShare in San Francisco, I-GO in Chicago, or eGo in Boulder and Denver Colorado) would pay the lowest price.
  • For-profit carsharing fleets (such as Zipcar) would pay a slightly higher rate because their profits are returned to investors, whereas any profits earned by nonprofits are returned to the organization to advance its mission.
  • Peer-to-peer carsharing participants, meaning owners of vehicles that are part of new startup companies like Getaround and RelayRides, would pay the highest price.

The rationale for charging peer-to-peer vehicles more than carsharing fleets, is that fleet operations — whether nonprofit like City CarShare or for-profit like Zipcar — will remove vehicles from their system that aren’t getting enough usage to cover the operating costs. Thus, it’s a safe assumption that a carshare vehicle in an on-street parking space that belongs to a carsharing fleet will get rented out at least enough hours per month to help reduce the number of cars on the street. In contrast, peer-to-peer vehicle owners can choose how many hours a day they wish to share their vehicles and can set that number very low, which wouldn’t do much to help reduce the number of cars on the street.

There are five great ideas in the Shareable article, so check it out.

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