Car Sharing Programs Need to Share Public Parking Spaces, Say Merchants

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As car sharing programs experi-ence an increase in demand, Potrero Hill and Dogpatch merchants are concerned that the public parking spots set aside for the services are negatively impacting their customers and neighborhood traffic.

In 2013 the San Francisco Munici-pal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) approved a pilot project that cre-ated reserved parking spots for three roundtrip car share programs.  The project extends to 2016, and includes nonprofits City CarShare and Getaround, as well as ZipCar, a for-profit company. Pilot participants pay a monthly $225 fee for each of the reserved spots, are responsible for maintaining the spaces, as well as 25 feet in front of and behind them in lieu of street cleaning crews doing the work, and collect and share data with SFTMA about who uses the reserved spots and how. Car share users are required to bring the vehicles back to the reserved spots.

Pilot spaces for two-car ZipCar pods are located at the northwest corner of 20th and Connecticut streets, southwest corner of 20th and Minnesota streets, southwest corner of 20th and Third streets, and southwest corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and 22nd Street.  In addition, a one-car City CarShare pod is reserved at the northwest corner of Third and 22nd streets, with a second car coming to that location soon.

“Car sharing has been pres-ent for 14 years in San Francisco,” said Andy Thornley, SFMTA senior project analyst and head of the car sharing pilot project. “It is bumping up against some limits. Traditionally, car sharing vehicles have been stored in parking lots and gas stations. A lot of these are going away or being redeveloped. We are putting the car share spots right in the neighborhood so folks can walk half a block to them. We want to make car sharing more attractive to and more convenient for more people.”

According to Keith Goldstein, Potrero Dogpatch Merchants As-sociation president, merchants aren’t opposed to car sharing. But they don’t like where some of the re-served parking spots are located. “I think in general we tend to be more progressive than other areas of the City. We realize the value of these types of programs. Yet it might not hurt to put some of the spots a little further east or to white zoned spots,” said Goldstein. “I’ve seen two cars double-parked on 20th Street near the Potrero Hill library while a ZipCar spot sat empty. I’ve heard negative feedback from other members.”

“Our commercial district is so small,” said Kayren Hudiburgh, co-owner of The Good Life Grocery on 20th Street.  “It’s only about two little blocks. We have delivery trucks, customers, and employees who all need to park here.” Hudiburgh said she’s noticed people illegally using the reserved spots and hurrying about when shopping in the area. “We’d like them to stay a little bit longer and buy a little bit more.”

Hudiburgh noted that short-term parking in the 20th Street commercial district works better than permanently reserved spots.  “Folks come and go, and the parking fills and frees up all day long. Two spaces, sometimes full, sometimes not, doesn’t add to the energy that the street needs.” Hudiburgh suggested that the reserved spots on 20th Street be relocated to the next block west, which sees less activity.   She pointed to off-street parking as another possibility.  “Daniel Webster has spots free after 3 p.m., and The American College’s parking lot is never full,” she said.

Khaled Ghanma, owner of All States Best Foods on 20th Street, agreed that the reserved spots should be relocated. “It has affected our business a lot. People try to double-park and it’s unsafe to all the neighbors and kids leaving the library. So far I haven’t talked to anybody who was happy about it,” said Ghanma.

“The branch, which doesn’t have any parking spaces, hasn’t had any complaints or experienced an impact on fewer library patrons coming in,” said Michelle Jeffers, San Francisco Public Library spokesperson.

According to Anita Daley, City CarShare’s marketing director, car sharing benefits neighborhoods. “Each of our cars on average is used by 50 people. That one car in that one space can be used by a lot of neighbors,” said Daley.

Jennifer Mathews, ZipCar’s public relations manager, said the company spoke with Potrero Hill and Dogpatch businesses neighboring proposed spots when the project was in the planning stages, and didn’t receive any negative feedback.  According to Mathews, each ZipCar can remove up to 15 personally owned vehicles.  “Each of these ZipCars added to the streets of San Francisco can help to reduce congestion, emissions, and save residents and businesses money and the hassles associated with car ownership,” said Mathews.

In 2012, BMW, which isn’t part of the pilot program, launched a one-way trip service called DriveNow. DriveNow members don’t have to re-turn vehicles to the place where they picked them up, and park in ordinary parking spots.  Rich Steinberg, Drive-Now’s chief executive officer, said his program is responding to parking concerns by learning which areas are best for drop-off.  “In Potrero Hill, that’s the 18th Street restaurant row, and near the Whole Foods,” said Steinberg.

DriveNow users can park in “Green Zones,” where the only park-ing restriction is street cleaning, or in “Business Areas.” Drivers have to pay for regular metered spots, and are responsible for any parking and traffic violations that they incur. It helps when a driver parks in an area that many of DriveNow’s members visit. Then another user usually comes along quickly to pull out the vehicle and drive it to its next destination. Members use the DriveNow app to determine which cars are available.

Although DriveNow isn’t involved in the car sharing pilot program, Steinberg said he’s in conversations with SFMTA about expanding Drive-Now citywide. Currently, DriveNow members can pick up and drop off vehicles in six San Francisco neigh-borhoods: Potrero Hill, Dogpatch, Mission around Florida Street, Noe Valley, Portola, and North of the Panhandle/Haight.

According to Daley, non-shared cars present a host of expenses and problems. “It’s a pain to park, you have to move your car for street cleaning, and then there’s the gas and repair costs,” she said. “We hear stories from our members such as, “I sold my car and now I can afford a couch,” and “I used City CarShare while my car was being repaired, and then I decided to just get rid of it.” The feedback that we’re getting is positive. Car sharing benefits a lot of people.”

Thornley acknowledged that the pilot project is in a development stage. “At the end of the pilot, we’ll evaluate the data and potentially recommend making on-street car sharing a permanent program, if the pilot experience so indicates,” he said. SFMTA’s goal is for people to own “just enough” car to meet their needs. The agency also wants to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and help households limit their transportation costs.

All four car sharing programs offer electric vehicles. City CarShare, Getaround, and ZipCar also offer gasoline and hybrid vehicles.