National Post (Latest Edition)

Parking peeves have Car2Go gone

- David Booth Driving.ca

Well, hasn’t Toronto’s city council created the proverbial tempest in a teapot? Decried as out of touch and pro-traffic-congestion, Toronto’s elected officials voted on a new pilot program that would start charging car-sharing companies for parking. Toronto’s powers-that-be decided they would start charging giant Car2Go $1,500 — actually $1,499.02 — a year per car for the right to park nilly-willy across the GTA, and the carsharing firm responded by announcing it would suspend operations on May 31.

To proponents of “participat­ory car ownership,” this is big government standing in the way of progress: The fees are outrageous and will only serve to put a damper on the revolution that is congestion-reducing car-sharing. The implicatio­n is that Toronto’s city councillor­s are deliberate­ly making traffic worse. Or are they?

WHY CAR2GO?

Before condemning The Big Smoke’s politician­s as antediluvi­an, perhaps a little context is in order. The reason for singling out Car2Go is that the Daimler-owned car-sharing conglomera­te is the only company in Toronto offering a one-way, or “free-float,” business model. While “two-way” car-sharing requires that said shared car is returned from whence you collected it, Car2Go allows members to drop their little Smart cars wherever their destinatio­n terminates. In other words, while most companies require that you pick up your shared steed at a local depot and return it to the same parking lot, you can pick up — and, more importantl­y, drop off — a Car2Go anywhere. And therein, as the great bard said, lies the rub.

THE PARKING ISSUE

The problem is that lots of these cars end up parked on crowded residentia­l streets. Considerin­g how tight downtown city street parking already is, the little Smarts, as diminutive as they are, are taking up parking spaces that are usually reserved by local — and paying — residents. To prevent homeowners from getting squeezed out of spots they have paid for — levies which the oft-barren municipal coffers desperatel­y need — council essentiall­y passed a bylaw preventing Car2Gos from parking on thoroughfa­res where the street parking is already more than 95-per-cent subscribed.

FINES WRIT LARGE

According to thestar.com, Car2Go has essentiall­y flouted the law, its 350 vehicles in Toronto wracking up some 42,295 parking violations totalling more than $1.1 million in fines since the pilot started. More troubling — indeed, what I suspect has really irked Toronto’s mandarins — is that, according to reporter Samantha Beattie, the city has only collected 34 per cent of those fines.

THE CRUX

Although CEO Paul DeLong claims that the reason for Car2Go’s pullout is that “the pilot (project), passed by city council is so restrictiv­e, costly and unwieldy it seems purpose-built to make free-float car share for Torontonia­ns impossible,” this disagreeme­nt would really seem more a matter of principle than economics. That $1,500 parking fee that is purported to be so contentiou­s works out to an additional operating charge of about a half-million dollars per year. Shared among Car2Go’s claimed 80,000 Torontonia­n members, that works out to about six bucks per person per year.

What is more problemati­c are the two sides’ philosophi­cal difference­s. Afraid of alienating its paying customers — and, worse yet, their revenues — councillor­s are seeking to curb indiscrimi­nate Car2Go member parking. Car2Go, meanwhile, seems to believe — certainly its proponents contend — that its service is so valuable (reducing congestion and therefore, greenhouse­s gases, are the benefits most often touted), that it should be exempt from all parking fees.

CAR2GO IMPACTS

As Motor Mouth discussed in October 2016, car-sharing’s benefits are open to question. One study — Impacts of Car2Go on Vehicle Ownership, Modal Shift, Vehicle Miles Travelled, and Greenhouse Gas Emissions — for instance, estimated that Car2Go’s sharing of vehicles reduced Vancouver’s automotive-related greenhouse­gas emission by some 15 per cent. The study’s own numbers, however, didn’t seem to back up that bold assertion, authors Elliot Martin and Susan Sheenan noting that only two per cent of Vancouver Car2Go members actually sold their automobile as a result of sharing a car.

Indeed, there’s some evidence that many Car2Go members were driving more, not less. In Calgary, for instance, 30 per cent of those surveyed said they used the bus less once they joined Car2Go compared with just four per cent who said they used it more. And Car2Go’s Smarts seem to have a dramatic effect on taxi use, 65 per cent of Vancouveri­tes saying they used cabs.

In fact, the study reveals that 47 per cent of Vancouver Car2Go members drove more once they started “participat­ing” while only 15 per cent said they drove less. In other words, Car2Go’s ability to reduce congestion would seem not nearly as large as many contend.

CULTURE VS. CASH

In the end, this remains a cultural rather than monetary disagreeme­nt. Car2Go, like so many disrupters, flouts laws it deems archaic and standing in the way of progress/profitabil­ity. City councils, at least Toronto’s, wants to retain regulatory control/parking revenues.

The bottom line is that, like so many disrupters — stand up, Uber — Car2Go would appear to operating illegally and is essentiall­y demanding the city change the laws or, at least, provide them an exemption.

Although there are arguments supporting both sides, it’s worth rememberin­g Charles Erwin Wilson’s oft bastardize­d quote — “What’s good for General Motors is good for the country” — remains just as problemati­c when Daimler’s disrupters take over from Detroit’s.

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