CITY HALL — Car-sharing services that might eliminate the need to own a second — or even first — car could be available in Santa Monica by the end of the year, city officials said.
A team of city officials will be conducting interviews with four car-sharing companies on March 1, with the hope of selecting a service by summertime, said Sam Morrissey, City Hall’s traffic engineer.
The identity of the companies which have applied is still under wraps.
That could put shared cars on the streets as soon as late summer or early fall, checking off another component of the transportation network identified in the 2010 Land Use and Circulation Element, or LUCE.
“The LUCE is really clear about having the city embark on a car-sharing program, and the need to create and establish a strong car-share program in Santa Monica,” Morrissey said.
Car-share services, like Zip Car and City Car Share, allow members to reserve vehicles for specific times without the paperwork and wait time involved in renting a car.
Appointments can last for several hours, allowing people to complete errands, attend meetings and conduct other business in areas less accessible to public transportation.
The service helps reduce congestion by removing cars from the road during peak hours, generally the morning and evening commutes. Instead, people who live and work near buses or other transit can use those to get to work and then use one of the rentable cars to conduct other business on an as-needed basis.
It is sometimes referred to as the “missing link” in alternatives to private car ownership because it fills in the gaps left by other modes like walking, bicycling or buses.
“It’s on-demand access to transportation,” Morrissey said.
City Hall is looking for a program that will make various kinds of environmentally-friendly cars available to members of the car-share network through an online reservation and billing site.
It just became feasible last year when the City Council passed an ordinance allowing car-share vehicles to take up space on the streets.
The company selected would also be expected to promote other kinds of alternative transportation, and maintain “reasonable prices” throughout the one-year pilot program.
Pricing can vary considerably from company to company, Morrissey said, with some companies requiring membership fees and others sticking to hourly rates in the neighborhood of $20.
Some also include mileage limits, and charge extra when those are exceeded.
It can still be cheaper than driving a car, which Morrissey estimates at $10,000 a year in terms of insurance, fuel and maintenance costs.
That may hold true for City Hall, as well.
The three staff members of the Transportation Demand Management section run the city’s pool car vehicle program, a system that allows employees to take a car out when they need it to get to an off-site meeting.
If the car share can do that for less, it would take significant pressure off of those three employees who are also responsible for overseeing the 650 transportation demand management programs impacting 37,000 employees in Santa Monica.
“It’s a pretty heavy-duty task,” Morrissey said.
Already on the road
Cities across the country are embracing car-share as an option to cut down on traffic and provide residents and visitors with other transportation options.
A 2005 report conducted by the Transportation Research Board said that by December of 2004, car share services claimed 71,000 members in the United States and Canada. A 2009 study published in the Transportation Research Record put that figure at 319,000 sharing 7,500 vehicles in North America.
The second study shows that large numbers of car-share members — anywhere between 15 and 32 percent, depending on the program — gave up their private vehicles after joining the program, and even more avoided buying a car at all.
Morrissey himself experienced the relative ease of the car-share program when he worked in Downtown L.A. Access to a vehicle when-needed allowed his family to avoid buying a second car.
“I would take the train to work, and use a car-share vehicle to go to meetings and come back,” he said.
According to the Transportation Research Board study, car-share users tend to have a higher level of education, are between 30 and 40 years old and fall within the middle to high-income range.
They also had specific opinions about cars and what they are used for, putting environmental concerns over aesthetic ones like the look or brand name of the vehicle, the report stated.