From City Beat:
Daimler will partner with the City of Austin to operate a car-share pilot program, Mayor Will Wynn announced this morning.
The city will set aside urban-core parking spaces for 200 of Daimler’s “Smart” cars. Rather than paying for the spaces, Daimler will let city employees use the cars for a number of hours that’s equal to the monetary value of the spaces. (That amount hasn’t been determined yet; it will be negotiated over the next few weeks, city officials said.)
The cars are small — two can fit in a typical parking space — and fuel-efficient.
The program will start in October and run for six months. Daimler will pay for fuel, maintenance and insurance during that time, said the city’s transportation director, Robert Spillar.
After six months, city officials will evaluate whether it saves money to lease the cars for the long term. Austin currently spends $6 million to $7 million on its fleet of 1,800 light-duty vehicles.
Employees would have to register to use the cars. They’d swipe a digital card across a car windshield, type in a pin code and drive.
Wynn said he hopes the program will reduce carbon emissions and encourage employees to use public transit or carpool into work and then use the Smart cars downtown.
Daimler started the program last year in Ulm, Germany. It appears to be a succcess.
Downtown developers ought to be interested in this, too. They pay bundles for structured parking -- $15,000, $20,000 or more per spot. Building fewer spots would lower costs, which might make some marginal projects feasible.
Could a car-share program work for the apartment buildings downtown? Maybe. The cost of purchasing a few cars every other year would be small relative to their annual operations budget. They could recoup much (if not all) of the cost by renting out the cars to residents at an hourly rate. The cost of storing the cars would be zero, since every apartment building has surplus parking spaces. And if fewer renters brought cars along with their futons, the apartments could be built with less parking.
Apartment managers could use the program to entice renters: "Skip the car payment but not the car." Getting to the rental car in the first place -- or the car to the renter -- is normally a big hassle, but it wouldn't be when the car was sitting in a garage ten floors down.
Developers will need to be persuaded. They already take huge gambles by betting millions of dollars of their own money on markets that might not be there two years after they break ground. This upfront gamble makes them (and their lenders) shun risky design. If 900-sf apartments with granite countertops, stainless-steel fridges and 1.2 parking spots per unit have sold in the past, then that's what they'll build.
That's why it would it be neat to see one of the repeat players downtown experiment with the car-share program in an existing project. Get some data. If it works, then try it on a bigger scale in a new project. Dispensing with lots of parking might even lower development costs enough to expand into lower-rent markets.