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Car-sharing services expand in Roxbury, Dorchester

City’s DriveBoston program looks to reduce auto ownership

Jule Pattison-Gordon

While car sharing services have taken off in much of Boston, with Zip Cars parked in neighborhoods across the city, access to hourly car rentals has long eluded Roxbury, Dorchester and Mattapan.

Now the Department of Transportation’s new DriveBoston program promises to bring car share vehicles to these and other underserved neighborhoods. Already Zip Cars have been placed at 30 Ruggles Street and at Haley House Bakery and Café at Dade/Washington Street in the Dudley Square area.

Last week Mayor Martin Walsh announced the launch of the program, a collaboration between Zipcar, Enterprise Carshare and the Boston Transportation Department that will bring 80 car share vehicles to Boston. DriveBoston rolled out last week and will continue adding vehicles into the fall.

DriveBoston is a part of Go Boston 2030, the city’s initiative for planning long-term transportation improvements. DriveBoston says its goals are to decrease parking pressure by reducing the number of vehicles owned by each household and freeing up parking spaces on curbs, better connect the Main Streets Business Districts, increase visibility of car sharing services, and improve Boston’s transportation network by creating “mobility hubs” along bus routes and at key MBTA stations.

The Mayor’s press office also emphasized the potential for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The program has been greeted with both excitement and worry.

DriveBoston calls for 12 car share vehicles to be located in Roxbury, 10 in Dorchester, and 8 in Jamaica Plain. Of the total 80 cars, 48 will have spaces reserved in municipal lots, and 32 will be on-street. A full list of locations is available on the web:

The first cars were introduced at the Ruggles Street lot in Dudley Square last week.

Under a car share program, customers check out a vehicle, pay by the hour, and return it to the same parking spot where they picked it up. Most program plans also charge a membership fee.

Location selection

The city was especially interested in discouraging households from purchasing a second car by letting the Zipcar or Enterprise vehicle serve that role, said Kris Carter, co-chair of the mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics.

To determine the spots, the city looked at “households that have more than one vehicle, that drive less than 16 miles a day, and at how to connect the households both to rapid transit systems and subway systems,” he said.

The city’s planning department worked with the Office of Neighborhood Services to select locations, based on need and available space at municipal lots, said Carter

Choosing the companies

Enterprise and Zipcar were selected after they submitted proposals in response to the Transportation department’s RFP. Criteria considered in the review process included where the companies proposed placing cars, their experience running car shares in other cities, how they had handled snowstorms and street cleaning and how easily members could join, said Carter.

As its part of the collaboration, the city offered the car share companies the option to purchase spaces in municipal lots. Downtown spaces were sold for $3,500 and spaces outside of the downtown area for $2,700.

Zipcar already had a few vehicles in Roxbury, Dorchester, and Mattapan neighborhoods, but its presence has been limited to Orange and Red Line stops, which remain on the periphery of the neighborhoods.

By offering the company good parking locations in the municipal lots, DriveBoston opened the door to further expansion into those areas said Lindsay Wester, public relations manager at Zipcar.

“In the downtown core of Boston it’s easy to find private lots. … In some of the surrounding neighborhoods it’s more challenging,” she said.

Environmental impact

The program seeks to cut down on greenhouse emissions by reducing the number of cars on the road. The city cites one national study that estimates that each car share vehicle generates a reduction of 9-13 owned cars.

DriveBoston also emphasizes fuel-efficiency.

“We did ask in the RFP for them [the car share companies] to tell us what we call their ‘fleet mix’ and prioritized companies that will be using more fuel efficient vehicles…[there will be a] range of vehicles on the street, but the majority will be more fuel-efficient. The two cars put in today [August 26]… are well above 30 mile per gallon,” said Carter.

Veronica Eady, vice president and director of the Massachusetts Conservation Law Foundation, also sees car shares as a way to let users test-drive hybrid and electric cars before they commit to buying one.

“[With car shares] people can experience cars they have never driven before,” she said. When Eady was looking to buy a new kind of car, she said she “actually drove a bunch of different Zipcars. Every time I had to travel for work, I’d get a Zipcar and intentionally get a different Zipcar each time.”

Ed Gaskin, executive director of the Greater Grove Hall Main Streets cited a public health impact as well.

“Given the higher incidents of respiratory diseases such as asthma in our community, we support programs such as DriveBoston,” he said.

Financial promise

Under car share programs, the company handles payments for gas and insurance and maintains the cars. Eady believes that, over time, the benefit of avoiding upkeep costs will encourage more people to forego car ownership.

“Anywhere that car share programs are expanded, there will come a cultural shift where people who own cars will realize, ‘Hey you know what? I don’t need to pay this $200/month insurance and maybe there’s an alternative’,” she said.

“It would be ideal if as part of the DriveBoston program, there was some reduced rates or subsidies for membership or usage. The same way some companies provide subsidies for public transportation,” said Gaskin. He added that more people are are likely to try the program if initial rates are lower.

Economic impact

Not everyone applauds DriveBoston. Jorge Martinez, Sr. is the executive director of Project RIGHT, which works to promotes neighborhood stabilization and economic development in Roxbury and North Dorchester. He opposes car share programs, which he sees as taking fares from local taxi drivers.

“I know there’s a need out there, but by the same token we have people who actually pay for [keeping their own] taxis … and they’re trying to make a living. … It [the car share program] is affecting their livelihood.”

“The majority of taxi drivers are people of color,” Martinez added.

He believes that there are enough taxis to serve the population and that car shares are an unnecessary competition, not a complementing service. “Nobody can tell you taxis don’t come into the neighborhood,” he said.

During emergencies and other times when public transportation is not enough, Martinez said that residents have a choice. They can turn to local taxis and build a relationship with the community members who drive them, or they can build a relationship with car share companies.

“It is in our best interest to support folks who already work here,” he said, “First I want to support folks who live here, then I want to support entrepreneurs who want to serve here,” he said.

Gaskin saw economic potential for the neighborhood.

“Residents need more flexible options when it comes to transportation, as that could increase employment opportunities,” he said.

Pilot program

DriveBoston is a pilot program that will run for 18 months, during which the Transportation department will assess its effectiveness.

“One thing we want to make sure is that the cars are being used,“ said Carter, “[We’ll be] looking at how frequently they are in use depending on each location, also making sure that there are enough miles being driven on them (we will be checking what we call ‘vehicle miles traveled’)…[that there are] not too many operation hurdles … that the cars are out there when they’re supposed to be out there and they’re not ending up in places where they shouldn’t end up.”

As agreed to with the city, the car share companies will collect and share anonymized data with DriveBoston on a quarterly basis. That information will include details such as the car mileage and how frequently a car has been checked out at a specific location. No information will be provided on the identity of the drivers, Carter emphasized.

Gaskin pointed out that this program is not the only transportation solution worth pursuing. “Besides car share programs, our communities are also underserved when it comes to bike share (Hubway) programs as well,” he said. “[Grove Hall] would like the mayor’s assistance in helping us implement our Complete Streets study.”