Council Approves Car2Go Pilot, But South Side Is Deleted From the Coverage Area

A Car2Go vehicle in Washignton, D.C. Photo: Elvert Barnes
A Car2Go vehicle in Washignton, D.C. Photo: Elvert Barnes

This afternoon Chicago’s City Council gave its final approval to a plan to test point-to-point car-sharing, which will give residents a new option for getting around the city without using a private car. However, due to opposition from local aldermen, Lakeview and Lincoln Park won’t be taking part in the pilot. And while the ordinance originally called for the coverage area to include much of the area bounded by Foster, Kedzie, Lake Michigan and 63rd, the final coverage map doesn’t go south of Cermak.

Unlike traditional car-sharing services such as Zipcar, point-to-point, or free-floating, car-share doesn’t require users to return the vehicles to a designated spot on private property, but allows customers to park the cars for free at any legal metered or unmetered on-street space. (The company pays a fee to the city for this privilege, and due to Chicago’s hated parking contracted, our point-to-point service, Austin, Texas-based Car2go, will also have to reimburse the parking concessionaire for lost meter revenue.) This flexibility makes free-floating car-share useful for trips that don’t work well with traditional car-share, such as hauling gear to a music gig or traveling the first or last mile to or from a transit station.

Ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft work fine for those kind of trips, but recent studies show that they’ve increased traffic congestion and cannibalized transit use in cities. In contrast, a 2016 UC Berkeley study of some 10,000 Car2go members found that each shared car took up to 11 private vehicles off the road, adding up to a whopping 28,000 fewer cars.

Those numbers didn’t prevent a backlash to the Chicago ordinance, proposed by Near Northwest Side alderman Joe Moreno, from colleagues like Lakeview alderman Tom Tunney and Lincoln Park alderman Michele Smith, who insisted that Car2go would make parking more difficult for their constituents who own cars. As a result, an earlier version of the proposed service area map left out their wards, but included the area bounded by Foster, 63rd Street, and the lake, with a western border of Central Park Avenue, Western Avenue, or Halsted Street, depending on the neighborhood. Tunney and Smith provided the sole votes against the ordinance when it passed City Council’s traffic safety committee last week.

Under the ordinance that passed today, Car2Go will distribute roughly 10 rental cars per square mile across the service area, called the “Home Area.” Customers pay a lifetime membership fee of about $5 to be able to rent the vehicles on the street by app. Cars can be taken out of the Home Area, but must be returned and parked in a legal, on-street parking spot to end the rental.

The final Home Zone map. The original proposal was for the coverage area to extend to 63rd. Special rules apply in the red areas during events at Wrigley Field and the United Center.
The final Home Zone map. The original proposal was for the coverage area to extend to 63rd. Special rules apply in the red areas during events at Wrigley Field and the United Center.

Therefore, a member could pick up a car parked within the service area in North Lawndale and use it to run an errand in Lincoln Park (where, unlike within the Home Zone, it would be necessary to pay to use any metered spots.) However, it would be necessary to return to the service area to park the car and end the rental. Car2go will “rebalance” the vehicles to prevent clustering, similar to how cycles are regularly redistributed within the Divvy system.

The pilot that passed City Council will last for eight months, concluding by December 2018, with a maximum of 500 cars within the service area. Car2go is know for its two-seater Smart cars, but the pilot may also include Mercedes sedans and SUVs. The vendor will be required to share data with aldermen and the Chicago Department of Transportation so that impacts on parking, congestion, and air quality can be measured. Car2go must also survey members to see if any are likely to reduce their car ownership due to the service. After the scheduled conclusion of the test, the Council can vote to end it for good, or allow the pilot to be extended as late as June 30, 2019.

The pilot will create a permit to allow free-floating cars access to residential permit parking zones within the Home Area for $75 per vehicle. Special parking restrictions will apply around Wrigley Field and the United Center during games and concerts.

Car2go eastern regional director Josh Moskowitz hailed the passage of the ordinance in a statement this afternoon. “Chicago is an incredible city ideally suited for flexible one-way car-sharing, and we are thrilled that the city has voted to establish a car-share pilot program. Over one million people across North America already use car2go, and with the passage of this pilot project, car2go intends to bring our service to Chicagoans this year.”

Spokespersons for CDOT and Alderman Moreno did not immediately respond to questions about why the approved coverage area stops at Cermak instead of going south to 63rd, as originally proposed. Car2go spokesman Tim Frisbie (formerly of the Chicago-based Shared-Use Mobility Center responded, “Due to current parking complexities around Comiskey Park, Wintrust Arena, and the Obama Presidential Library, the city thought it was best to exclude these areas during the pilot period.”

While it’s great that Chicago is moving forward with the pilot, it’s a shame that the major swath of the South Side that was originally proposed to be part of the Home Zone won’t be included. Car ownership rates are relatively low in many of those communities, so it’s unfortunate that the residents won’t have a chance to try out this new transportation option near their homes. But hopefully the program will prove successful, so that aldermen from all over the city will become interested in bringing the service to their wards.

Update 3/29/18, 8:00 AM: CDOT spokesman Mike Claffey provided the following explanation for why some South Side neighborhoods were ultimately deleted from the Home Zone. “There were a number of complicating factors in extending the boundary as far south as initially considered. If the pilot is a success, we expect that the City Council will consider extending the program further south and to other areas not included in the pilot. For the pilot program to work, we thought it made sense for the service area to be as contiguous and as simple as possible.” 

Update 3/29/18, 11:00 AM: First Ward staffer Jerry Mandujano confirmed Car2go’s and CDOT’s explanations for why the South Side was largely excluded from the final coverage area. “Alderman Moreno is excited to get this pilot off the ground and he hopes the program will do what’s expected, ease congestion,” Mandujano said. He added that the data-sharing requirement and other checks and balances in the ordinance will allow the city to keep tabs on the initiative and ensure that it’s doing more good than harm. “If this goes well, hopefully a lot of Chicago can be included, not just focusing on the North Side but also the South Side and West Side as well.”

  • Jared Kachelmeyer

    Seems odd they left out Edgewater and Rogers Park.

  • Are the rebalancers going to use Divvy bikes between relocations? Wouldn’t that be nice.

  • Courtney

    Agreed. I live in the area and there’s a ZipCar right outside my building but I am much more interested in Car 2 Go. I hope if the city ultimately approves the program long-term (which I bet they will…..) that Edgewater and Rogers Park are included, along with Hyde Park, Englewood, etc.

  • Courtney

    Any venture capitalists wanna help me bring this to Chicago:

    On another note, anyone else think 10 cars per square mile is a bit much?


    Super excited! Regular divvy user and tried the Divvy Car thing in Paris. Can we please tax surface parking lots?

  • When I-GO was a car sharing company in Chicago (founded by the Center for Neighborhood Technology), some of their car maintenance workers (to go and clean and fill up cars with gas and inspect their interiors) would ride bikes between parking spaces.

  • Jared Kachelmeyer

    Aren’t they already taxed?

  • Cameron Puetz

    CDOT spokesman Mike Claffey was spot on when he said “For the pilot program to work, we thought it made sense for the service area must be as contiguous and as simple as possible.” I worry that Tunney and Smith will tank the program by insisting on a confusingly shaped hole in the center of the service area.

  • Tooscrapps

    I think he’s getting a higher land tax or a special parking lot tax. Parking lots/vacant lots are assessed very low. Most of your tax bill is based on “improvements”, i.e. buildings.

  • Jeremy

    I know Michele Smith is sometimes characterized as having a suburban mindset. I was at a candidate forum before the 2015 election. Her opponents were worse.

  • Frank Kotter

    Just when spring started springing, I have another reason to hate humanity: ‘I won’t allow this system proven to free up parking into my neighborhood because we don’t have enough parking’.

    that’s some wicked logic there, Michele!

  • Kelly Pierce

    I wonder if the smart cars will be a turn off, given their
    jerky automatic transmissions and cramped space. Will the musician really haul
    gear in these? Can people accept a slow shifting smart car with its low profile?
    These are the downsides of the cheapest cars that are most energy efficient
    with the smallest parking footprint.

  • Cameron Puetz

    Smart Cars seem like an odd choice. Since car free people are more likely to be hauling something on the occasions when they do use a car, the small size could be a major turn off. Also Smart Cars aren’t particularly cheep ($14,650) or fuel efficient (35 mpg EPA combined). A Ford Fiesta has the same fuel economy for about the same price in a car that offers a lot more utility.

  • rwy

    As a big guy, the Fortwo looks like torture.

    Also, why are we so sure that this service won’t cause the same problems as Lyft and Uber?

  • johnaustingreenfield

    Studies like the one cited suggest that point-to-point car-share encourages people to get rid of private cars or not buy them. And unlike Lyft and Uber, for the most part the cars are only driven during trips by customers. One reason ride-hailing adds to congestion is passenger-less cruising by the drivers.

  • Jacob Wilson

    There’s nowhere to park them!

  • Michelle Stenzel

    My letter to Alderman Michele Smith, 43rd, from today. Any other 43rd ward residents who would like to copy and paste (feel free) or send a similar note, direct it to

    Alderman Smith,

    I was disappointed to see that our entire ward was left out of the one-year trial program for the new Car2Go car share system. As you probably know from the 2010 census data, about one third of households in the 43rd ward do not own a car, and this new car share transportation option would be convenient for them, and potentially for other residents who are currently car owners but are considering the pros and cons of car ownership.

    Additionally, data from a 2016 UC Berkeley study reflects that each shared car takes up to 11 private cars off the roads, which would go a long way to unclogging the busy streets of the Gold Coast and Lincoln Park.

    I urge you to reconsider your stance on this issue when it comes time to shape the final citywide program in the future. Thank you.

    Michelle Stenzel

    Link to a Bike Walk Lincoln Park blog post with a map of the census data on car-free households:

    Link to a Streetsblog Chicago article that includes the UC Berkeley study

  • j84ustin

    Not just south, but west, too. I live at Pulaski, and this pilot will be useless for me.

  • Let’s call it intermodal sharing.