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Car2Go Coming to Chicago?

A new model of car-sharing is poised to make its debut in Chicago. So-called “free-floating” car-sharing is currently outlawed, but city officials are considering a pilot program that would make it legal in a majority of the city.

Some aldermen, however, are sounding the alarm about how it may impact street parking, something that is at a premium in many city neighborhoods.

City leaders are briefing some skeptical aldermen on the proposal Tuesday and have been developing the plan over several weeks.

Car-sharing allows a driver who doesn’t own a car to go to a specific location and rent one, run errands and then return the car. Free-floating car-sharing takes the model a step further: the driver finds the nearest available car on a smartphone app, unlocks the car with a code, finds the key inside the glove compartment, drives it to their destination and then leaves it there for the next user.

The biggest company to offer this is called Car2Go. It’s owned by the Daimler corporation, which operates in 11 cities in North America and is now vying to get the business in Chicago. Ald. Joe Moreno, 1st Ward, is sponsoring the ordinance to allow the trial program – he says he likes any program that reduces car ownership in the city.

“We have too many cars in society,” Moreno said. “Car companies are starting to realize that. Remember, Daimler is the one behind this. They like to sell cars. But if we can go to a society where there are less cars on the street, that’s a good thing. Time will tell whether this is one of the products that will get us there.”

Under the initial pilot program, 500 rental cars would be available in a vast swath of the city, although portions of the South and Northwest Sides would not have access to it.

Car2go says the pricing structure in Chicago would be similar to New York rates, where the cheaper of two options costs 41 cents per minute, $15 per hour, or $89 for the day. For a luxury vehicle: 47 cents per hour, 19 for an hour, $129 for the day.

The cars would also not be allowed to park in the 43rd and 44th Wards, in heavily congested neighborhoods like Lincoln Park and Lakeview. Aldermen there are skeptical if not outright opposed to the idea, primarily because they don’t want these cars parking on streets where residents already have trouble finding spots. Ald. Tom Tunney, 44th Ward, says car-share vehicles are commercial, and thus should not be clogging up residential streets.

“There’s very few spaces on our residential streets for our residents,” Tunney said. “So to bring a commercial activity like this on a residential street runs contrary to what we’ve been doing for years, where residential streets stay for residential cars. I’m not adverse to this concept, but only for metered streets.”

But the Chicago Department of Transportation, which is negotiating the terms of the program, is hoping to assuage aldermanic fears about residential parking use.

“There’s some evidence that cars, while they will park in neighborhoods, will get moved quite often,” said CDOT Deputy Commissioner Kevin O’Malley. “The company will be obligated to move them. And if they are successful at their business, members will come take those cars for their rides. So there’s a chance that it won’t consume too much parking.”

Car2Go says its staffers will relocate the cars to spread them out so there isn’t a glut in one location. They also say they’ll foot the bill for all necessary costs to obtain residential parking permits, and are working out the details of parking on metered streets, although CDOT says they will have to pay full price for any metered street. The price of meters is baked into the overall rate for consumers, as is insurance. The ordinance could be voted on by early next month and the trial program would run from then through the end of the year if approved.

Cars2Go is one of four companies vying for this business. The concept has been around for nearly 10 years in other markets, but has had trouble catching on in Chicago.

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