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Chicago poised to test one-way car-sharing, despite local opposition

Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) has a lot of questions about Mayor Rahm Emanuel's plan to build a high-speed rail to O'Hare. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Two months ago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel held a private City Hall meeting with the CEO of a company billed as the largest one-way car-sharing service in North America.

The mayor told Car2Go CEO Thomas Beermann that he’s all for the idea of testing the company’s Divvy-style car-sharing system on the streets of Chicago, even if some North Side aldermen want no part of the 500-car experiment.

On Thursday, the City Council’s Committee on Economic, Capital and Technology Development chaired by Car2Go champion Proco Joe Moreno (1st) is expected to sign off on the Chicago test.

“The mayor is interested in any potential cutting-edge transportation option. We want to be seen as a city that is open to innovation in transportation in particular, which is the backbone of our economy,” Deputy Mayor Bob Rivkin said Tuesday.

Car2Go would essentially be a four-wheeled version of the Divvy bike-sharing program.

Using an Uber-style app, customers would locate the nearest vehicle, get a designated code to open the door and use the key inside the glove compartment to drive anywhere they want to go.

When they’re done, there would be no need to return the vehicle to a designated garage or drop-off point. All the customer would need to do is park the car in any legal space on the street.

Customers could choose to pay by the minute, by the hour or by the day. Gas and insurance would be part of the overall cost.

Moreno said he has instructed Car2Go to hammer out an agreement to reimburse the company that leased Chicago parking meters for the cost of the parking spaces taken up by Car2Go vehicles.

Normally, those so-called “true-up” costs are paid by Chicago taxpayers — to the tune of millions of dollars each year.

“I told them from Day One that they were gonna have some hurdles to get over and that they were gonna be their hurdles — not mine — in terms of permit-parking and other things in the city,” Moreno said.

Car2Go officials could not be reached for comment.

Moreno said the 500-vehicle pilot program will be generally confined to the Near Northwest Side and that local aldermen who don’t want free-floating car-sharing will be free to opt out.

“I don’t think the car will allow you to turn it off in areas that are not allowed,” the alderman said, without explaining how that would work.

Moreno said he’s well aware that North Side Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd), Ald. Michele Smith (43rd) and Tom Tunney (44th) want no part of the Car2Go experiment for fear that it will gobble up precious parking spaces and exacerbate traffic congestion already made worse by Uber and Lyft.

But Moreno said, “We’re going to a car-less society. We’re going to a sharing society. We have many, many cars every day sitting idle, sitting on streets, sitting in garages not being used. . . . Whether we approve it now or later, that’s the way we’re going in this society. This is just another sign that people are not relying on their own vehicle.”

Car2Go has touted a recent study by the University of California Berkeley that showed that each Car2Go vehicle in North America removed up to 11 other vehicles from the road.

Waguespack doesn’t buy it.

“Those vehicles are used about seven or eight percent of the time. The rest of the time, they are sitting in these spots. You’re creating more and more spaces for them and more and more opportunity to throw more cars on the road,” he said.

Waguespack pointed to the impact on residential permit parking zones and on the daily fight for parking spaces around CTA and Metra stations.

“People from all over try to park in those spaces — from Schaumburg and Tinley [Park]. If you have Car2Go now being able to use any of those spaces — regardless of whether they’re metered or residentially zoned — that’s undercutting the whole system from the get-go. It goes against everything you’ve set up as a system in the first place. It’s throwing fuel on the fire,” Waguespack said.

He added, “We have a parking meter system that’s a wreck as it is. If we exacerbate the problem of the parking meters, it will make things worse.”