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Chicago's car-sharing pilot program with Car2Go moves to full City Council

The Chicago City Council next week will consider a proposal to allow a Texas-based car-sharing company to operate in parts of the North and Near South sides.

The pilot program, which was approved Thursday by a 14-2 vote in a joint meeting of the economic and traffic safety committees, would allow Austin’s Car2Go to start business in Chicago on May 1 through at least the end of the year. The program could extend through June 2019 if the council takes no action to end it.

Car2Go allows members to pick up a car parked somewhere within a designated zone, use it for a trip and then park it somewhere else in the zone. This “free-floating” model differs from other rental car or car-share businesses like Zipcar, which requires that a car be picked up from and returned to the same spot.

The 10-year-old company, started by the German automaker Daimler AG, already operates in other North American cities, including Vancouver, Seattle, Washington, D.C., and Brooklyn, N.Y.

The proposal was introduced by Ald. Proco “Joe” Moreno, 1st, whose ward includes parts of the trendy West Town neighborhood. Moreno argued at the committee meeting on Thursday that the program would encourage some users to get rid of their cars.

“The overall goal is to reduce pollution, reduce traffic,” said Moreno. He said the Car2Go concept is part of the growing “shared economy,” which allows customers to use cars, bikes or apartments for short periods without having to own them: “We need to embrace that, regulate it well, and show that Chicago is a good place to do business with new technologies and folks trying to reduce their car ownership.”

The program will provide up to 500 cars in Chicago, in a zone that runs from about Foster Avenue to the north, Homan Avenue to the west and Cermak Road to the south, depending on the neighborhood. Left out of the program are parts of Lincoln Park and Lakeview — aldermen in those wards worry that it could worsen parking in already congested areas.

Restrictions against parking around Wrigley Field and the United Center apply to the program.

Car2Go customers pay a lifetime membership fee of $5 to rent the vehicles, which they locate and reserve using a phone application. They can leave the designated area, but must return the car to a legal, on-street parking spot within the zone to end the rental.

The company pays for insurance, gas and parking, while consumers pay for the time the car is used. Costs vary depending on the type of vehicle and the city — for a smart car, consumers typically pay about 41 cents a minute, $15 per hour and $60 per day, said Mike DeBonville, business development manager for Car2Go, in an interview.

The company must balance the cars across the designated area to prevent clustering — similar to the way Divvy re-balances bikes across rental stations. The provider distributes about 10 rental cars per square mile across the zone in any legal, on-street parking spot, according to the Chicago Department of Transportation, which supports the ordinance.

Transportation Department officials noted that a study of Car2Go by a University of California at Berkeley professor estimated that each vehicle in the fleet removes up to 11 vehicles from the road, and that Car2Go members drove less than private vehicle owners. Car2Go uses either Mercedes-Benz smart cars, which are smaller than regular cars and have only two seats, and Mercedes-Benz sedans or sport utility vehicles.

The company anticipates hiring about 30 to 40 people to manage the fleet, which will include rotating the cars and doing fueling and maintenance, according to CDOT. Car2Go is negotiating a deal with Chicago Parking Meters on how to pay for meters, and would pay a $75 per vehicle fee for parking in areas controlled by residential parking permits.

Several nonprofits either testified or sent letters of support for the pilot program, including the Active Transportation Alliance, which advocates for pedestrians, bicyclists and public transit users.

“It would give people more transportation options and potentially lead to less driving and fewer cars on the road,” said Kyle Whitehead, government relations director for the alliance.

Ald. Tom Tunney, 44th, and Ald. Michele Smith, 43rd, voted against the proposal. Tunney said he would support it if it did not allow parking on residential streets.

“It’s a nightmare waiting to happen, especially around Wrigley Field,” said Tunney, whose ward includes the ballpark. He said he had been told that ride-sharing services like Uber would reduce congestion but they have only brought more traffic problems.

Chester Kropidlowski, a former Transportation Department engineer and representative of two Lakeview community groups, testified against the plan. He said his community is “very concerned” about parking, and as someone who uses a cane and needs his car three times a day, he is not going to start using a rental car every time he needs to go out.

“I’m afraid our city is starting to let us down,” Kropidlowski said. “And I think that just continually telling us how to live our lives regarding driving and parking as opposed to addressing our concerns is not the right thing to do.”

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