Car Sharing in Hoboken: Why Couldn't it Work in New York?

Why can’t New Yorkers share cars? A car-sharing program across the river in Hoboken, New Jersey piques the curiosity of the City Critic, in the New York Times:

Corner Cars, the brainchild of Ian Sacs, Hoboken’s enthusiastic director of parking and transportation, is only a few weeks old, with just a couple of hundred users so far. It’s too soon to measure any impact. But in other communities, studies have shown that for every car that can be rented by the hour, 6 to 20 drivers have liked the experience so much, they’ve given up the car they owned. Across the country there is even a growing market in peer-to-peer car sharing — informal networks of car owners and car needers with no corporation to mediate.

“I think the part that’s really fascinating,” says Susan Shaheen, co-director of the Transportation Sustainability Research Center at the University of California, Berkeley, “is the behavioral response of users.”

“What is it about car sharing that causes people to sell their cars or forfeit a car?” she said.

The expense of car ownership is part of it, but she also sees a connection to larger social forces — “a growing culture of sharing,” of “social networks and the creation of communities through instant information.”

[“Traffic” author Tom] Vanderbilt likened it to the difference between paying to acquire and “park” a huge collection of CDs and simply streaming the music you want, when you want it, from the Internet.

There are a number of obstacles to making a car-sharing program work in New York City however, including alternate side of the street parking and the cost of a parking space (which would have to be borne by users or the sharing organizer, or both). Hertz pays Hoboken $100 per spot per month.

How much more would a rental company be willing to pay? Or would someone else with an interest in seeing fewer cars on the street — like real estate developers, who might like to build smaller garages in their buildings — agree to kick in the difference?

Then there’s the biggest challenge of all: the determination of some New Yorkers, no matter the logical argument against it, to own a car. Is there any dollars-and-cents argument that could persuade New York’s discretionary drivers to give up their cars?

“I asked that question back when I was in city government in the ’70s and ’80s,” said Sam Schwartz, the transportation engineer who was once New York’s deputy commissioner of transportation. “In the ’80s we did several focus groups and we tried to find out what made them drive. And a very common theme is that they felt they were smarter than the people down in the tube. They’re the Brahmins. They deserve it.” He added, “I never heard of it anywhere else.”

Could more and better options change that?