MORNINGSIDE HEIGHTS, Manhattan — It's been available in New York City for more than a decade, but carsharing took center stage as a city transportation alternative on Thursday, when Mayor Bill de Blasio and other city leaders unveiled a new -- and potentially controversial -- way for New Yorkers to participate in the program: 309 parking spaces are being made available exclusively for Zipcars and Enterprise Carshare cars.
Most of the spaces are on the streets of four of the five boroughs. The spaces had been reserved for private cars, but will be restricted, starting June 4. The two carshare companies are paying $780 per year for the privilege of having all of the spaces reserved just for their cars -- a sum lower than what most New Yorkers pay to park at meters in a year, and far lower than garage parking.
"We have to give people new options," de Blasio said. "We have to give people a new way to get around."
That's not exactly the way that every driver interpreted the program.
"So you're making my life more difficult when I come to see my elderly aunt in the hospital," said Robert Negreira, a motorist who'd parked right across the street from the first of the city's designated carshare parking spaces, on 115th St. and Morningside Drive here by Mount Sinai-St. Luke's Medical Center.
The New York City Department of Transportation created a new restricted parking zone sign that's displayed at each of 285 parking spaces on New York City streets, as well as at 24 parking spaces in NYCHA public housing developments.
However, at eye level on the signposts are instructions on how to join carshare. On the instruction sign that the mayor reviewed on Thursday morning was a mistake that de Blasio caught and pointed out to DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, who'd been giving him a tour of the new designated spaces.
The sign said that carshare rental is billed by the minute, rather than by the hour, which is the case.
Trottenberg jumped in, assuring her boss they'd put "a little decal" to fix the mistake.
"We're fixing government right here," the mayor joked, in response.
At the news conference after the tour, he made another statement, which PIX11 News pointed out to him was in error.
De Blasio said the carshare rental prices start at $8.00 an hour and $69.00 a day, but PIX11 research showed that the most affordable Zipcar rental in the five boroughs was $11.56 per hour, and $105.00 per day. The overwhelming majority of Zipcars cost about $15.00 per hour.
Zipcar and Enterprise Carshare, the two companies in the program, said, at their own news conference after the mayor's question-and-answer session, that there are cars available for $8.00 an hour in Staten Island. However, it's the one borough which is not part of the new carshare program.
Zipcar and Enterprise Carshare had two display cars on site on the street near the news conference. As a corporate policy, Zipcar gives names to all of its cars. The mayor didn't seem to notice, but the name of the Zipcar on display was "De Blasio."
PIX11 News checked with Zipcar, and found that the rental rate for new Honda Civics, like "De Blasio," is $14.75 per hour, or $111.25 per day.
The carshare program, which will also feature discounted rates for NYCHA residents and IDNYC members, will run for a two-year trial. The mayor said the program could be expanded sooner if it appears to be popular. The city will conduct surveys frequently throughout the trial period, the transportation commissioner said.
If the on-street carshare does not prove popular, the city will "junk it, and go do something else," de Blasio said. "But we've got to try."
"They're gonna like it," Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer said.
She, and the rest of city government, are counting on more drivers like Peter Asamoah, who was getting in his SUV near Mt. Sinai-St. Luke's Hospital, on his way back home to the Bronx.
"If you get a carshare, that's a good idea, Asamoah said.
He said that it's a huge inconvenience for him to find parking in his neighborhood every time he drives. Asamoah said that he'd be willing to give up his SUV and use a carshare instead, even if it cost him $12.00 or more per hour.
"That sounds reasonable," he told PIX11 News. "It would be more convenient than a garage [where] you wind up paying more."