Vote expected next week on expansion of car-sharing service to St. Paul

  • Article by: ERIC ROPER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 9, 2014 - 9:15 PM

But City Council has questions before Car2Go expansion vote.

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A Car2Go vehicle is parked on a street in central Berlin on Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014. The service, operated by Mercedes-Benz and Smart car manufacturer Daimler launched a new intercity service recently.

Photo: Frank Jordans, AP

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The car-sharing service Car2Go that’s been popular in Minneapolis might soon be expanding to St. Paul, depending on the outcome of a vote next week.

The St. Paul City Council decided last week to briefly postpone voting on an 18-month agreement with Car2Go that would expand the company’s service area to St. Paul starting in mid-July. A public hearing and vote is expected next Wednesday.

The service already has more than 10,000 members in Minneapolis, with about 350 Smart cars on the streets.

Car2Go’s model uses a smartphone application to locate nearby cars, which can be picked up and dropped off at nearly any legal parking spot in the coverage area. Users pay a one-time $35 fee to join and about 46 cents per minute while driving, but not for parking.

Because the service is available only in Minneapolis, users cannot leave one of the cars in St. Paul. As a result, cars occasionally concentrate on the St. Paul border.

Car2Go’s model differs from other hub-based, car-sharing services in the Twin Cities, such as Hourcar and Zipcar, which require users to return the car to the same reserved parking spot where they originated.

Car2Go is a subsidiary of Daimler, which produces the tiny Smart cars. The service is now active in 10 U.S. cities, including Seattle, Portland and Denver.

Warehoused cars await rollout

The proposed agreement with St. Paul would add 185 vehicles to the Twin Cities fleet. Car2Go would pay the city $975 a year per vehicle, largely to cover potential lost meter revenue and residential parking permits. The precise amount will vary depending on how often the cars are parked at meters.

Minneapolis, which has more meters, charged $1,689 per car in its August 2013 agreement.

A representative for the company told the St. Paul City Council that they are storing the vehicles in a warehouse until the rollout.

Council members had several questions about the plan last Wednesday, largely about ensuring that the cars don’t cluster in one place and the city does not lose parking meter revenue as a result of the deal. But public works representative Paul St. Martin said the downtown meters are currently only earning 40 percent of their potential $18-per-day in revenue.

St. Martin told the council that the aim is to make car-free living easier in St. Paul by complementing transit, biking and walking. But the nonprofit organization Transit for Livable Communities submitted a letter to the council expressing skepticism about the effectiveness of the model.

The letter, signed by executive director Barb Thoman, said Car2Go’s experiences in Portland and Seattle “raise some concerns.” Those include the extent to which users are reducing their public transit usage and how often the cars are being used to commute during peak hours.

Thoman urged the council to mandate that Car2Go provide the city with annual surveys of its users’ transportation choices. She also asked whether business districts had been consulted about Car2Go cars using “highly desirable” parking spaces. Separately, Thoman pushed the city to raise parking fees and install more meters.

Adrianne Andang, a spokeswoman for Car2Go, said they have found that 77.9 percent of their members purchase a transit pass and 39 percent said they have reduced the number of miles driven in their private car, if they have one.

 

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