Car-Sharing Program Finds Home in Crowded Hoboken

The city has more residents with vehicle permits than there are parking spaces

View Comments ()
|
Email
|
Print

    NEWSLETTERS

    Win McNamee

    On almost any street in this haven for Wall Street commuters, you're likely to find a pizza joint, a sports bar, a brand-new condo and a tourist looking for "Cake Boss" Buddy Valastro's bakery — and you'll circle for hours before you find a parking spot.

    The city has more residents with vehicle permits than there are parking spaces. There are 14 pages of rules for newbies about how to park properly.

    "I can usually drive around the block a couple of times during the day and find a spot, but after 6 (p.m.) it gets rough, especially if you have a bigger car," said contractor Mike Caracappa, who has lived in the city for five years.

    Two years ago, the city of 50,000 residents just across the Hudson River from Manhattan tried a counter-intuitive approach: Put more cars on the street in a car-sharing program. With Corner Cars, residents who needed a quick ride could get into one of 42 cars parked on the street and pay daily or hourly rental fees to get from here to there.

    City officials and the Hertz car rental company, which runs the program, say it's taken cars off the streets and created a few scarce spaces. About a quarter of the nearly 3,000 people who have become members of the program said they had handed in their parking permits, not replaced cars they were getting rid of or opted not to buy new cars, Mayor Dawn Zimmer said.

    "Parking is a huge issue in Hoboken and a real challenge," Zimmer said. "We are very proud that, basically, we took a risk and made an investment in a visionary approach to address that challenge."

    Car-sharing in American cities has existed for at least 10 years. Zipcar, the most recognizable name in the industry, offers cars in 18 metropolitan areas and on 250 college campuses. But Hoboken took a gamble by using only street parking spaces, rather than using garages or parking lots, for car-sharing.

    "What's unique is the degree to which the city is involved in the program and that it's all on-street," said Kevin McLaughlin, who publishes CarSharing.net, an industry website.

    At 21 locations around the city, two Corner Cars occupy spots at intersections. In a 2-square-mile city, that means a car usually isn't more than a 5-minute walk from just about anywhere.

    That's an important consideration, according to Mike Harrigan, a program director for City CarShare, a nonprofit that has operated a car-sharing service in the San Francisco Bay Area for about 10 years. Hardly any of the CarShare cars are parked on the street, but both programs have cars within a few minutes' walk, a key for success, he said.

    "Cars have to be fairly evenly distributed over the service area," Harrigan said. "Studies have found people will walk, say, 9 minutes but not 10."

    Hoboken's all-in approach hasn't been without some bumps along the way. When Corner Cars spaces have been vacant, they've often proved too tempting for motorists to pass up.

    "Inevitably, residents took it upon themselves to park in our locations," Hertz spokeswoman Paula Rivera said. "We had to increase the response time for towing, and that's definitely improved."

    Car-sharing could receive a boost from New Jersey's Legislature, which is considering a bill that would exempt some car-sharing programs from a $5 state surcharge that applies to any rental, no matter how short it is.

    Hertz's contract with the city expires in July, and the city is close to issuing new specifications for companies to bid to continue running the program, city transportation director Ian Sacs said. One change will be to require reflectors on the parking spots so they are more easily identifiable, he said.

    Whoever gets the contract also could pay more for parking spaces. Hertz pays $100 per space per month, Sacs said, which means the city has made about $100,000 during the two-year pilot program. Some observers say that's not enough to outweigh the inconvenience to residents.

    "I've gotten 1,000 calls since the program started, and the complaint I always get is, 'Hey, I'll pay $100 for on-street parking in front of my house. Heck, I'll pay $300,'" Councilman Michael Russo said. "At this point $100 per month is laughable. It's a great program in theory, but I just think we could utilize it a lot better than we have, and I hope we do that in the next round."