Hoboken’s “car sharing” program, a collaboration with the Hertz rental company that was introduced in June, placed 42 cars to the parking-strapped city streets to be rented by residents for as low as $5 an hour. The program was touted by Mayor Dawn Zimmer’s administration as a way to encourage hundreds of residents to give up their own cars, which could free up parking without having to erect any new garages or lots.
Fans of the administration touted the program as creative thinking, while critics have said it takes away existing spots without actually enticing residents to give up their beloved cars. Some business owners complained recently that the rental cars have taken up valuable spots right in front of their establishments.
‘It’s entirely feasible to [expect] 42 to 50 permits to be given up in six months’ time.’ – Ian Sacs
So has the program actually opened up parking in Hoboken, and are the $5-per-hour cars a reality or a myth?
Expects 50 permits given up by end of year
When the program debuted in June, city officials estimated that 750 residents would give up their annual parking permits because they can now rent the Hertz cars easily. The total was calculated using numbers from the ZipCar company, which has been in Hoboken for several years and estimated that “17.6 households have gotten rid of a car” for every ZipCar on the streets, according to City Spokesman Juan Melli. A Philadelphia program brought similar numbers.
So far in 2010, the city has issued a total of 15,108 Hoboken parking permits, according to Sacs. As of this month, while it’s a bit early to judge the long-term outcome, Sacs said six people had surrendered their permit because of the Hertz program.
The city’s outreach campaign will encourage many more, Sacs said. He said that the city will soon roll out bigger incentives to go with the program.
“It’s entirely feasible to [expect] 42 to 50 permits to be given up in six months’ time,” Sacs said, estimating based on the number of Hertz cars that will ultimately be placed on city streets. “And then the 750 [would be] reached in one or two years, especially as leases come due.”
As of mid-August, 360 Hoboken residents had signed up on the internet for HertzConnect.
Using the program is, for some, simple. Residents can sign up at connectbyhertz.com. If they include the code HOBOKEN, the $50 signup fee is waived (a $25 application fee is not) and they get a $75 credit toward future costs. Residents who actually turn in a Hoboken parking permit to City Hall get a $100 credit.
Signing up isn’t necessarily quick if you’re having an emergency. After a reporter signed up in July, the screen asked for “a day to check your driver history and then we’ll get you connected.” Within a week, the reporter received information in the mail to use the cars, including the small black plastic card that enables a person to unlock and use any car on the street after having reserved it on the internet.
Paula Rivera, the manager of public affairs for Hertz, based in Park Ridge, N.J., said that it’s rare for people to be turned down. “It’s usually people with serious driving offenses on their record,” Rivera said.
She said the company is “very pleased” with the response in Hoboken so far.
Businesses lose parking
But a few business owners have questioned the program, complaining that the cars are removing spots right in front of their businesses – sometimes when the cars are gone for days at a time. Two business owners noted that the Hertz cars are always parked on the side of the street where visitors can park for up to four hours without a permit, rather than in the resident-only spots.
“I have two of them in front of my store,” lamented one shop owner last week. “It’s on the four-hour spot side [for visitors]. Put it on the residential side; they’re for residents. I don’t see how it would help businesses. It eliminates parking that we’re already starved for.”
He added that one of the two Hertz spots in front of his shop has been vacant for an entire week, so no one else can park there.
He recommended that the cars be moved to residential permit spaces, which are the majority of spots in town.
His suggestion was vehemently echoed by a Hoboken restaurant owner.
“I’m not sure of the thinking of the city, nor Hertz, but if they think these young professionals are going to give up their cars because of the availability of these vehicles at their leisure, they’re mistaken, firstly,” the owner said. “Secondly, why didn’t they put the spaces on the resident side, not the visitor side, which is short on spaces to begin with? We get visitors from Pennsylvania, Florida, North Carolina – we had a couple from North Carolina just last week. [Customers] come in for pizza and a beer and they walk out with a hundred dollar ticket. [The program is] not friendly to businesses and it’s not friendly to visitors.”
However, a third business owner said that he supports the program even though he understands it can be hard to see the immediate effects.
“The problem is,” he said, “it’s easy to see the spot empty, and hard to see the benefit. If those cars open up more parking spots, then that’s what we need. I can understand how someone could see a customer circling that empty green spot and get frustrated. Overall, I’m a supporter.”
In an unrelated move that also took away parking, the Zimmer administration also removed spaces near businesses earlier this year when they shifted the location of a taxi stand near the train terminal, taking away several metered parking spots.
Sacs responded to the business owners’ complaints last week. Regarding the spots near the train terminal, he said, “Even though there was a loss of a couple of metered spots, the movement of the taxi stand was also about improving the traffic flow and the safety of pedestrians crossing the streets, and improving access to shuttle buses.” He also said that the two municipal garages in that area can be used by customers of local businesses.
Regarding HertzConnect, he said that the benefit to businesses is the same as the benefit to residents: Eventually opening up more parking spots.
He said that the cars are in visitor parking spaces at the behest of the City Council, who wanted to preserve as much resident parking as possible when they approved the program.
The real rental rates
The administration has noted that among the public benefits of the program is the fact that it will save people money on car repairs and insurance, particularly low-income residents. The normal rate of $8.50 per hour for the cheapest HertzConnect vehicles was dropped to $5 for those in Hoboken.
But do those $5-per-hour rates really exist?
This reporter’s research showed that they can get pretty close. In Hoboken, the smallest cars (SmartCars) were found to be inexpensive at certain times of the week when rented over a period of several hours.
From 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. on a recent Wednesday – enough time to take a car on a trip to the grocery store and back – 164 cars were available in Hoboken, Manhattan, and Brooklyn from which to choose.
Five of them were the least expensive “Smart Cars,” tiny vehicles that could be had for a total of $15.70 for two hours, averaging $7.85 per hour. But extend your rental to four hours and the price dropped to $26.40, or an average of $6.60 per hour.
Earlier this month, Hertz sent around an e-mail to Hoboken members announcing a special offer for September: cars for a $5-per-hour flat fee every Tuesday.
When a patron signs up for a car, the screen gives an option at the bottom to “show list,” a roster of available cars. A user can find out the cars’ color and license plate number in order to locate them quickly. It is important to click “hide list” in order to go back to a map showing where all the available cars are in Hoboken.
On a recent weekday, two Mercedes C 300’s were available at an average of more than $16 per hour, although one was only for “Silver Towers” residents in Manhattan. In between were VW Beetles, Camrys, and Mini Coopers.
Rates include gas, insurance, a GPS system, roadside assistance, and 180 free miles per day. Tax and a small New Jersey “domestic security fee” cost extra.
Daily rates for the cars in Hoboken can go as low as $60, the company has said.
Council divided over effectiveness
At the Sept. 1 Hoboken City Council meeting, Councilman Michael Russo, a frequent critic of the Zimmer administration, challenged Sacs to provide documentation regarding the six people who had given up their permits. He said he wasn’t sure that 750 people would ultimately give up their permits because of the program.
Councilman Michael Lenz, a Zimmer ally, contended that the numbers might not come only from people giving up permits, but also from new residents who decide not to get a permit because of the program.
The council voted 7-2 to extend the program for another 90 days.
To find out more about the Corner Cars program, visit http://hobokennj.org/cornercars, email email@example.com, or call the Department of Transportation and Parking at (201) 653-1919.
Caren Matzner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.