The Hermosa Beach City Council approved a resolution Tuesday that will allow for the city's participation in a proposed South Bay regional car sharing program.
Run by the on-demand car rental company Car2go, the proposed program would encompass nine South Bay cities and allow customers to rent two-person Smart cars on a per-minute basis for short or even one-way trips.
Supported by the South Bay Cities Coalition of Governments (SBCCOG), Car2go plans to distribute up to 350 cars across a 40 square mile South Bay "home area" and allow users to rent the vehicles on the spot with the tap of a membership card. Gas, insurance and parking are included in the 39 cents per minute or $13.99 per hour rates.
According to Car2go, the benefits of the program include complementing public transportation, providing fuel efficient on-demand transportation options and reducing vehicle emissions along with the number of cars on the road.
"There is a lot of benefit to a car sharing program in general," Car2go business development manager Walter Rosenkranz told the council. "The research shows that each car sharing vehicle removes vehicles from the system... Anywhere from 6 to 15 personal vehicles are removed from the transportation system because there is access to a car sharing program."
"With that ability we have seen in our member surveys, there are already people reporting that they got rid of their secondary car or they got rid of their primary car because they don't use it that much, it is expensive to have and there is flexible mobility solution that is available," Rosenkranz said.
According to SBCCOG executive director Jacki Bacharach, research has also shown that South Bay residents generally stay within the South Bay and only take their cars on short trips.
"What we have found is that most of our trips are less than five miles," Bacharach said. "I think they (Car2go) are interested because their model fits our travel patterns."
The main concern of local governments, especially in the cramped beach cities, is how the car share program will affect parking, which is already at a premium.
While Car2go would pay Hermosa Beach for any parking permits and reimburse the city for cars parked at metered spaces, shared cars would be allowed to circumvent the time restrictions placed on parking spaces in residential districts and at parking meters. Parking zones with time limits less than an hour and street sweeping regulations would still have to be observed.
"When it comes to parking in this community, just giving (Car2go) basically carte blanche I think is wrong... I feel that we need to work this out to be fair to our residents who do pay for this service," argued Councilman Peter Tucker, the only councilman to vote against the resolution. "I don't disagree with the program, but I think parking is a very key item in this and I am not willing to give it away to say we are going to try something."
Despite the parking concerns though, the most on the council said that the car sharing program is a step in the right direction and could help the city move towards its ultimate goal of being carbon neutral.
"I think this is good enough to start because there are really no good answers to solving the problem of getting cars off the road... What I think is real about this is that it hits the high mark of car sharing which is definitely a solution." said Councilman Michael DiVirgilio in support of the resolution. "This isn't perfect but it is good enough for me and I think it is good and it is sophisticated... It is the first real example of car sharing that I have heard that is really workable."
While most residents who spoke during the public hearing Tuesday supported car sharing programs, some also had concerns about parking and the types of vehicles being utilized by Car2go.
"I really love the idea of car sharing... My biggest problem with this particular program is the cars themselves," said Hermosa Beach resident Dency Nelson, calling for a possible electric vehicle car share program. "The Smartcar is not an efficient green car... That cold start and the short trips are the most polluting types of transportation."
According to Rosenkranz though, the infrastructure to have an entirely electric fleet of Car2go vehicles is not yet in place and would simply not work yet in the South Bay. Currently, Hermosa Beach only has four electric vehicle charging stations in place.
For the program to really be successful, Rosenkranz said that there will need to be a cohesive "home area" with boundaries that are easily remembered by users.
Currently, the proposed boundary lines are the 105 freeway in the north, Pacific Coast Highway in the south, the coastline in the west and South Vermont and Western Avenues in the east. While cars can be driven outside of the boundaries, they must be returned and parked in that "home area" in order to end the rental period.
Creating that well defined boundary will require that Manhattan Beach, Redondo Beach, El Segundo, Torrance, Hawthorne, Gardena, Lawndale and Lomita also elect to participate in the car sharing program. If only a few cities participate and others do not, Car2go said it would not work for its users.
"We can't tiptoe into a market... We have have to provide a service that gets people to where they want to go," Rosenkraz said. "To make it a viable service that is useful for our members, it has to be a pretty contiguous area."
There is no word yet on when or even if Car2go will come to the South Bay as other municipalities such as Manhattan Beach and El Segundo are still investigating the viability of the program.
Owned by the Daimler car company, Car2go currently operates in nine cities in North America including San Diego, Portland and Washington, D.C. Globally, the company has set up in nine european cities including London and Berlin.