Car-sharing considerations
Zipcar contract up for renewal; some mull changes
by Marilyn Baer
Reporter Staff Writer
Aug 26, 2018 | 2627 views | 0 0 comments | 122 122 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The city is deciding about terms of renewing its contract with Zipcar, the city’s car sharing service.
The city is deciding about terms of renewing its contract with Zipcar, the city’s car sharing service.
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The city’s two-year contract with Zipcar – Hoboken’s car-sharing service that places 40 cars on the streets – expired in July, but residents are still able to use the service as the city considers renewal of the contract and mulls any potential changes in terms.

City spokesperson Santiago Melli-Huber said residents can still use the service. It was first entered into in July, 2015 by the city under Mayor Dawn Zimmer, a way to encourage residents to avoid buying their own cars and parking them in a parking-strapped city. Residents can reserve the cars by computer or app for a period of hours or days. Insurance and gas are included in the hourly or daily rate.

But there have been occasional snags, and members of the City Council have asked the city to consider them before renewal.

Zipcar offers users more than 40 vehicles, parked in reserved parking spaces throughout the city.

When the city first considered the service, some council members complained about the parking spots taken off the street. However, proponents have said that because of so many transportation options in town, the service has helped residents become less dependent on their cars.

The city also used to host a Hertz car-sharing service as well, but Hertz got out of the car-sharing business, focusing on cars rented out of their main offices, including one in Hoboken. However, the Hoboken Hertz office is not open on Sundays, forcing Hoboken residents to rent a car for an entire weekend if they only need it for a day.

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“The key to car-sharing success is returning on time.” – Katelyn Chesley

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Car sharing has presented some problems.

On busy days and nights in Hoboken, non-Zipcar members and visitors to the city have parked in the designated Zipcar spots, despite the signs. This leaves people returning a Zipcar to drive around looking for a spot. And Zipcars don’t have resident parking permits on them. Last year, on Sundays, neither the police nor the Hoboken Parking Authority (which is closed on Sundays) was authorized to deal with those cars, leaving them in the spots with no penalties.

Zipcar spokeswoman Katelyn Chesley said last week that this problem has become less frequent. She said that the company is working with the city to develop a plan for Sunday enforcement. “That includes towing non-Zipcars parked in Zipcar spots,” she said.

Hoboken Police Chief Ken Ferrante said that the Hoboken Parking Authority handles towing when they are open, and on Sundays the Police Department will attempt to handle it, “but we always attempt to notify the owner of the parked vehicle first as towing is a burdensome [task] that takes officers off patrol for approximately 30 minutes.”

“The Hoboken Police Department needs to prioritize call response and only tow for emergency reasons,” added Ferrante. “Towing a vehicle because it is blocked in a private company's designated spot, though covered by ordinance, will not have any priority status at the [Police Department] if emergency matters are ongoing. We experience close to 300 calls for service per day…That said, I have been in talks with Hoboken Parking Authority to deploy their enforcement officers on Sundays, which is very close to happening.”

Another issue residents have discussed is the fact that Zipcar rents the cars back to back, meaning a person can rent one until 12:30, for example, and the next person starts at 12:30. So if the first person is late, the next may show up to find their car – perhaps taking along luggage or their family – and feel stranded without a car to get into. On busy days, residents have ended up in a situation where no other cars in town were available, meaning they’d either have to get to New York City with their luggage to get a Zipcar, or find some more expensive means without reimbursement.

“The key to car-sharing success is returning on time,” said Chesley. “Late members can end up impacting others who have the reservation right after. We take this seriously and will charge a fee for late returns.”

But what about the person who’s stranded? Chesley said the company will not reimburse people for having to suddenly take an Uber or other means to their ultimate destination – but they will reimburse them for alternative transportation to the new Zipcar, whether to Manhattan or somewhere else.

“For unexpected out-of-pocket expenses incurred during a reservation, we are glad to be of service and reimburse the member’s account,” she said. “The member simply clicks request reimbursement, completes the form, attaches the itemized receipt, and clicks submit.”

Chesley said the form must be submitted within 30 days.

Has the program helped?

Council President Ruben Ramos said that although the council has not yet discussed the Zipcar contract, there are several questions he would like to see answered before a vote.

Ramos noted that Zipcar was originally brought to the city to help decrease the number of cars owned by residents by providing an easy alternative.

The city said that the number of residential parking permits handed out has remained relatively steady over the past three years, but there was a decrease of 369 permits issued between 2016 and 2017, despite the city’s growing population.

Ramos said he wants to know whether Zipcar has significantly impacted the number of residential parking permits in the city.

When asked about membership, Chesley said the company does not release local membership numbers. But Melli-Huber said there are currently more than 2,293 Hoboken-based members in Zipcar.

He said over the past three months, users have taken 3,125 trips with Zipcar, representing 30,107 hours of use.

Ramos said he’d like the city to explore moving the cars into garages or municipal lots, where some used to be parked when the program started. This would make the cars more easily usable in the snow, and preserve their spots more easily.

Ramos said he’d like the city to look at where the cars are located throughout the city.

“One thing I would like to look at is the usage data at specific areas,” he said, noting perhaps there were some which were used less frequently that could be moved to other neighborhoods.

Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher said the contract has not yet gone to the council’s Finance Subcommittee. She said anecdotally, the program seems to be working, as she often sees the Zipcar parking spaces empty.

The program does fill gaps, as the Hertz or Enterprise car rental services in town only allow day-to-day rentals, not for a few hours.

Fisher said she would like to see more data while the city looks at the renewal.

Marilyn Baer can be reached at marilynb@hudsonreporter.com.

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