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City Council launches test drive of Car2Go ‘free-floating’ car-sharing program

The Car2Go sharing program already operates in several U.S. cities. The Chicago City Council is expected to vote Wednesday to add Chicago to that list. | Car2Go website

Chicagoans who don’t own their own cars will soon have another transportation option, courtesy of the sharing economy.

The City Council on Wednesday gave Car2Go, the largest one-way car sharing service in North America, the green light to launch a 500-car experiment on the streets of Chicago.

The test was authorized to begin May 1, but Car2Go has yet to announce a start date.

“Chicago is an incredible city ideally suited for flexible one-way car-sharing,” said company spokesman Josh Moskowitz, noting that “over one million people across North America” already use Car2Go.

The pilot program will operate in an area stretching roughly from Cermak north to Foster, and as far west as Kimball and Homan. The eastern boundary will be Lake Michigan in some places, but not others.

That’s because Lincoln Park and Lakeview have been carved out of the program at the request of local aldermen concerned about exacerbating parking problems in a city already starved for parking.

“I don’t think there’s enough benefit to Car2Go to overcome the needs of the people who live in my ward who rely on residential permit parking in one of the most congested parts of the city,” said Lincoln Park Ald. Michele Smith (43rd).

“The residents have residential permit parking because of the congestion. What Car2Go wants to do—getting essentially free access to the city residential zones—it isn’t a good deal.”

Ald. Tom Tunney (44th), whose ward includes Wrigley Field, joined Smith in voting “no.”

“I support Car2Go as long as they use the metered streets, which is my complete ward. Because there is no residential parking available in my ward whatsoever. Not a spare space. The congestion that Uber and Lyft and Via trying to find those precious few spaces is ridiculous,” Tunney said. “It’s chaos already, but this is only gonna make it worse.”

Tunney questioned how the boundaries of the pilot program are going to work and whether Car2Go customers will know enough about them to know where they can and cannot park.

“They’re saying the app says you can’t park there. But can you imagine if there’s one parking space on Racine, but it happens to be on the wrong side of the street? Come on. It’s just illogical,” Tunney said.

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

Using an Uber-style app, customers who agree to pay a $5 lifetime membership fee 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 gas up the car or return it 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 pay a higher rate to use the vehicle all day.

The average fee will be 41-cents-a-minute, $15-an-hour and $60-a-day.

Ald. Proco Joe Moreno (1st), Car2Go’s City Council champion, has instructed Car2Go to hammer out an agreement with the company that leased Chicago parking meters to reimburse that firm for the cost of spaces taken up by Car2Go vehicles.

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

Car2Go will pay the city $75-per-vehicle for parking in residential permit parking zones. And just as Divvy re-balances bikes to avoid overloading rental stations, Car 2 Go has agreed to balance its vehicles to make certain there are no more than 10 per-square-mile in the pilot area.

“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,” Moreno has said.

“That’s the way technology is going. Whether we approve it now or later, that’s the way we’re going in this society.”

Car2Go has cited a “first-ever” study by the University of California Berkeley on the impact of one-way car-sharing in North America. It showed each Car2Go vehicle removed up to 11 other vehicles from the road.

Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) doesn’t buy it.

“If you look at what’s happened in other cities, 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,” Waguespack has said.

Car2Go’s grand experiment is to begin May 1 and continue through June 30, 2019 — unless the City Council moves to end it on Dec. 31.