Near Northwest Side residents will likely have the first shot at taking a Smart or Mercedes for a drive under a car-sharing program that cleared its first City Council hurdle on Wednesday.
Car2Go would make up to 500 cars available for a year-long pilot program. The vehicles would include tiny two-seater Smart city cars, as well as other Mercedes models.
The pilot program was approved by the Economic, Capital and Technology Development Committee and the Pedestrian and Traffic Safety Committee and heads to the full council for the final OK next week.
“When you first came to me about free-floating cars I was thinking of cars flying in the air,” said Ald. Walter Burnett (27th), chairman of the Pedestrian and Traffic Safety Committee.
Car2Go uses a free-floating car-sharing approach. The user goes online to find the nearest car, then uses a code to unlock it and drive it to their destination. They can leave it in any legal parking spot within a designated zone — they don’t have to return it to a designated spot, such as with Zipcar, another car-sharing service.
The cars will be licensed and insured like any other vehicle, and Car2Go will pay the city a $75 fee per vehicle. The company also will pay for parking and any fines associated with parking tickets, tolls or tickets generated by traffic cameras; the city will not be liable for any accident. A user cannot end their session with the vehicle until they return the car back within the pilot-program zone — which, for now, will be limited to the Near Northwest Side.
Kevin O’Malley, a managing deputy commissioner in the city Department of Transportation, said the department selected the Austin-based Car2Go company, owned by Daimler (which also manufactures both Mercedes and Smart), out of a pool of five companies to run the pilot test.
All but two aldermen — Michele Smith (43rd) and Tom Tunney (44th) — voted in favor of the test run, which is set to begin on May 1 and run through June 2019 unless the city chooses to terminate it in December. Their wards are not in the pilot zone.
“The overall goal is to reduce pollution, reduce traffic,” Ald. Proco Joe Moreno (1st), who chairs the Economic, Capital and Technology Development Committee, said. “The sharing economy is coming, it’s here and we need to embrace that, regulate it well, and show that Chicago is a good place for business with new technologies, and with folks trying to reduce their car ownerships.”
That’s not how Tunney saw it.
“It’s a nightmare waiting to happen, especially around Wrigley Field,” he said.
Though the transportation department pointed to studies showing congestion was improved in cities with car-sharing, the 44th Ward alderman was not convinced.
“We heard this argument with Uber. This past weekend, you could not get around Lakeview, because of Uber and Lyft,” Tunney said.
Smith opposed the program because of potential reductions in CTA and parking revenue.
“We made a policy choice to adopt Uber and Lyft, lots of people love it, the result has been that CTA revenues have gone down,” Smith said.