Reserved Parking on NYC Streets? If You Car-Share, It Will Happen

In a bid to encourage more New Yorkers to ditch their cars, the city is launching an initiative that would give car-share users access to reserved parking spaces around the city.

Under a two-year pilot program beginning next spring, the Department of Transportation will reserve 300 of its 3.5 million on-street parking spaces, plus another 300 spots in municipal garages, for companies like Car2Go and Zipcar, which may have to pay a fee or meet the city’s conditions to get access to the spots.

Whether DOT can pull of the pilot depends on NYPD’s willingness to keep the on-street spaces clear of drivers and placard holders looking to skirt the rules. “It’s something we have to work with PD on,” Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg said after Monday morning’s City Council hearing on the program. “If those spots are going to fill with placards, this is not going to be a successful program.”

Another question is whether car-share companies will be forced to release data to the public as part of the program. Research from other cities has reliably shown that car-share programs reduce private car ownership, but there’s no data in New York on where car-share trips are being taken and whether drivers would have otherwise gone by private car, taxi or transit.

“We want to get the maximum amount of data that we can,” Trottenberg said, after telling the Council she will “certainly” want to open that data to the public. “I want the city, the policymakers, and the public to make an informed decision,” she said.

The city has not yet determined where it will launch the pilot, though Trottenberg pledged to not “foist it” on neighborhoods that are opposed. Council members on Monday urged the DOT to include low-income and far-flung areas like the South Bronx and the Rockaways, and DOT said it could work with the New York City Housing Authority to expand the program to public housing parking lots in the future, and Council Member Rosie Mendez encouraged DOT to work with NYC Health + Hospitals, as well.

DOT has not determined what the agreements with car-share companies will look like. The companies would likely have to maintain the spaces in exchange for a break from alternate-side parking rules, but the city could also ask for more. It may require them to serve low-income neighborhoods in exchange for parking spaces in wealthy areas, for example, or it could extract a fee for the use of precious curbside space.

“I want to make sure we get this right before the city locks itself in with long-term contracts,” Trottenberg said, adding that DOT will look to places like San Francisco, Washington and Seattle that have already reached agreements with car-share companies. “We’re seeing really good results in other cities,” she said.

DOT trumpeted other parking progress during yesterday's hearing. Pay-by-cell signs are being installed between 14th and 59th streets in Manhattan this week, the first step to rolling out the program to all 85,000 metered spaces citywide. NYPD now enforces parking rules using high-tech, hand-held devices, and DOT finished upgrading to “smart meters” over a year ago, allowing it to easily adjust parking regulations.

Despite the progress, other programs have either withered on the vine or been completely ignored since Mayor Bill de Blasio took office. Placard abuse is a continuing problem, and residential parking permits have been off the table since congestion pricing died in 2008. The PARK Smart initiative, which adjusted meter rates in a handful of neighborhoods to keep people from hogging desirable curbside space, has also stalled.

Trottenberg said the new pay-by-cell and smart meter technology will make it easier to enact smart pricing reforms down the road, but she didn’t promise anything other than further study.

DOT is working on what Trottenberg called a “deep and sophisticated analysis” of parking needs across the city, due out next year. “We’re poised to sort of take that next step in more sophisticated parking, but not yet,” she said. “We will be coming out sometime in the near future — I can’t tell you when — with ‘Parking Policy 2.0.’”


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