Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Monday, January 13, 2020

In DC and Seattle could Car2Go (ShareNow) be converted to a nonprofit and remain in business? (Or could it be sold to Zipcar?)

Even in bankruptcy some individual retail stores still succeed.  One of the things with retail bankruptcies, pretty much, is that even though a company is failing overall, there are various stores that are quite successful.  But there isn't a system to preserve those existing stores, and the momentum for closure is too great, so all the stores end up shutting down, regardless of their individual profitability.

Leading one way car sharing platform to exit North America.  Recently, Car2Go, the one-way carsharing service originally created by Daimler Benz, and later merged with BMW, and renamed ShareNow, announced that it would be shutting down all of its remaining operations in North America: Montreal; New York City; Seattle; Vancouver; and Washington, DC/Arlington County, Virginia ("Share Now, formerly Car2Go, is leaving North America," The Verge).

-- "Car2Go dying: further effects from the rise of ride hailing and damage to the sustainable mobility platform/mobility as a service paradigm"

I haven't used Car2Go in Canada or New York City. I have used it in Seattle (and San Diego, where it used electric cars, which were awesome).

Granted I don't have access to their financials, but I wonder if one or more of these cities could still be successful with one way car sharing, were the Mercedes-BMW venture willing to consider other business models, or weren't primarily interested in Europe, where they are better positioned to succeed as opposed to North America, which is a market very much cluttered with other operators going for the same market segment.
Car2Go vehicles bunched up on Hawaii Avenue NE
Plus as charlie mentioned, with a change in US CAFE requirements, and Dieter Zetsche no longer being the CEO of Mercedes, the company is no longer interested in the SmartCar ("Daimler's incoming CEO considering killing Smart, report says," CNET)

Planners need to have scenarios in place to deal with situations like this.  In some of my writings on parks and cultural planning, where there are multiple actors, I recommend that localities do some basic planning for all the parks or cultural assets in their community, especially if they are provided by state, federal, county, or for profit entities, in order to be able to respond when conditions change--e.g., in the aftermath of the 2008 recession many state park agencies closed park units, with devastating impacts on localities relying on these parks for tourism and other benefits.

The same now goes for transportation planning, because of the recent rise in the number of for profit actors in the space including micromobility--e-bikes, e-scooters, dockless bike share, micro-transit; ride hailing; and even train service in Florida and eventually Las Vegas (Brightline/Virgin Trains USA).

I recommend using the German Transport Association model as a way to coordinate and integrate mobility services across a region as well as providing a place at the table for for profit providers:

-- "The answer is: Create a single multi-state/regional multi-modal transit planning, management, and operations authority association" (2017)
-- "Another example of the need to reconfigure transpo planning and operations at the metropolitan scale: Boston is seizing dockless bike share bikes, which compete with their dock-based system" (2018)
-- "Branding's (NOT) all you need for transit" 2018

I argue that one-way car share is a key element in the sustainable mobility platform ("Further updates to the Sustainable Mobility Platform Framework") and within DC's platform for mobility as a service ("DC is a market leader in Mobility as a Service (MaaS)").

Could one-way car share, with microcars, still be viable in DC (and/or other cities) in a nonprofit or subsidy scenario?

-- Would it be worth continuing in terms of the SMP and MaaS?

-- Could it be worthwhile for Zipcar to buy it? (They weren't successful in coming up with one-way car share on their own).

-- Or would the Free2Move operation by Groupe PSA which operates in DC be willing to take on Car2Go's customer base?  (At least in DC, you can just join Free2Move.  But the other cities don't have that option.)

-- Just as DC jumped on Arlington County's negotiation of a bike share contract to relaunch bike share in DC in 2010, could DC and Arlington County somehow work together to continue to keep Car2Go alive, and even expand it in the DC area?

-- Is there a place for some kind of subsidy?  E.g., DC makes a lot of money per car, say $2,000, in annual licensing fees, in part to cover the opportunity cost of lost car revenue.  That's over $1 million per year.  Could a higher excise tax on ride hailing vehicle trips be used to support a subsidy program?  Etc.

-- Granted a big problem with nonprofit car share is having to reinvest in new vehicles as existing vehicles age out.

For this to be explored, cities would have to come together and ask ShareNow to keep the service going for a few more months, to explore alternatives.

-- ShareNow announced that the service would cease at the end of February 2020.

Perhaps NACTO, the National Association of City Transportation Officials, could get involved?  And the Shared Use Mobility Center of Chicago (funded through the sale of a nonprofit car sharing system to Enterprise Car Share).

I fear there is neither the time nor the creativity to be able to explore this kind of option.

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At 9:50 AM, Anonymous h st ll said...

I don't know, local governments in the US can't seem to do much right, not even the basics.

Even DC, which has the most advantageous location in the US struggles to get even the basics right, despite having more $$ than they know what to do with. Where is the Metro oversight, the strong city funded transit (Circulator is cool but quite modest, the streetcar could be something exciting but doesn't seem set to be expanded etc), atrocious health outcomes for poor residents, the income gap between white and black just grows and grows, etc

At 10:14 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

Q: Could one-way car share, with microcars, still be viable in DC (and/or other cities) in a nonprofit or subsidy scenario?

A: No.

Microcars are basically cars with motorcycle engines; the only one I can name off-hand is the BMW i3 hybrid. Even a smart is larger than a microcar. See Kei cars in Japan.

If we look at smart competitors, very thin. Fiat 500. Chevy spark. maybe the MINI.

Yes we need government incentives to bring city cars to the US. Although we don't really understand the incentive structure very well. But the US market is basically nonexistent and even if you removed all import barriers they aren't coming over.

Let alone running it as a one way car share market.

Let alone having governments run it.

Could we create a class of essentially golf carts to use in cities? Very common in gated communities. Storage costs probably not worth it.

At 1:22 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

hst ll -- totally agree.

charlie -- not all cities, some cities. Could DC/Arlington be one of them? I think so. OTOH, Car2Go was much more successful and popular in Seattle. I don't know why.

Montreal in the core. Sure. Same conditions as DC in the core.

The trick maybe is to get it as close as break even as possible. Not to be "profitable" which is hurdle that a company like Mercedes has to meet.

The thing is, it's important to have counter examples of best practice even in a sea of traditional automobility.

It's to the advantage of a city or theoretically a state or national government to do so.

But the vision capability isn't there, mostly, to pull it off.

At 12:22 PM, Anonymous charlie said...

RE: Some cities.

yes, we discussed that before. No question there is a market there albeit very small.

I am fairly sure share now will be dead in Europe as well within a year. Uber still has a market cap that is larger than BMW. Sharenow was a bid at that giant speculative bubble and it failed, no need to keep supporting it.

In terms of what the cities could do, I'd say they could have

1. Remove the tax on rental cars
2. Reduce price on the parking permits ($1000 a year?)
3. Work out a deal on parking tickets

All that is under their control but they just want to squeeze money out it.

The positive is we now a price on what a non-resident parking permit should cost in DC -- about $100 a month. Not a bad deal still.

At 9:42 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

This isn't exactly relevant, but along the same lines, remunicipalization movement.

But as a way to show an alternative to traditional investor owned utilities, the City of Barcelona did create a solar power "utility" starting with putting panels on municipal buildings.

I don't really see cities, even through an entity like the National League of Cities, ICMA, or even PTI thinking like this -- the Car2Go example-- although there are examples with utilities, there are buying groups across metropolitan areas for local governments, etc.

At 11:20 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

Good find.

"“If you are confronting neoliberal thinking and dogmas, it’s much harder to find a clear position on something as complex as, say the EU, or Nato membership. But if your political debate is around questions like: ‘Are there enough parks? Is public transport working or not? Are there too many cars on the streets?’ The questions are really tangible, and close to people’s lives, and it’s easier for progressive politics to provide an answer.”

They ought to become still closer. Part of the remunicipalisation ideal is that it is not simply an obscure asset transfer from private to public ownership – a change in the paperwork that will pass ordinary citizens by. Rather, it aims to increase participation in decision-making, boost local democracy and civic energy, and make services fairer and more accessible."

I'd like to go puke. Is DC Water more accountable than PEPCO?

Again I'd frame this as a decade of very cheap looking government financing. 10 years ago privatization was a big business because private company could tap into pools of money that public sector could not. The situation is now reversed.

I'd also say pensions play a huge role in the privatization debate.

Could DC run a municipal broadband network? Yes, in a heartbeat. Basically you're just running the cables then contracting with a larger provider to connect you. Easy peasy, except you'd need to add at least 1000 new works and probably more like 3000. Nobody wants to add those pensions.

And in terms of car2go, the complexity of designing/building a car is far far above any city's competency.

Perhaps a better example for you is bikeshare. With lyft as as owner (or operator) you've got a lot of problems. What are cities going to do when Lyft goes belly up? Who owns the IP? The ability to proceed more bikes+docks?

We've been through that once already and it was unpleasant interregnum. Is there a plan to deal with it in the future?

At 3:18 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

OK, first, no, DC Water is no more responsive to the public than Pepco. But it doesn't have to be that way.

(Didn't you love when the director retired, he started a consulting firm to sell others his advice based on how great DC Water is?)

I've argued for years that a government owned utility shouldn't be exempt from regulation (cf. WMATA).

There are a couple of examples of public utilities doing creative stuff. Seattle. Medellin. Manassas.

The TVA related "local electricity board" in Chattanooga pioneered the local broadband network there, using part of it for smart management operations of the electricity service.

But it's rare. Typically, really creative types aren't attracted to working for government.

And you have examples of terrible operations too, like Philadelphia Gas Works, or most parking authorities.

Another example is how some municipalities position their trash service, like SF, Salt Lake, Johannesburg. It's run more like a business, branded, but focused. E.g., Salt Lake is building a paper mill to create a market for recycled paper and cardboard that's more local. While the region does glass recycling and sells the glass to a Utah-based insulation manufacturing plant (not all jurisdictions have such an opportunity).

2. But I guess I didn't make it clear on carshare. I wasn't suggesting that cities band together to design and build a small car and then use it for carshare.

They need to band together to work on carshare and to work with an existing manufacturer already producing an appropriate vehicle.

3. Reading a piece in "The Fixer" the consumer column in the Toronto Star, I learned tha the province has an authority, the Ontario Clean Water Agency, which codifies and focuses best practice. They provide technical assistance, maybe even run local systems.

Just think if Michigan had a similar approach. Because a state/province operates on the scale where you can develop that kind of expertise.

Similarly, the Lancaster (PA) Waste Collection Authority is operating beyond the county borders, because of its capacity.

Maryland has a multi-county authority that does waste collection/diversion too, including the production of LeafGro compost, but it's probably not as able as LWCA.

Some areas have metropolitan scale authorities that do great things (or not).

At 3:24 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Excellent point about financing. Yes, PFI before. But now, probably equal. There's plenty of venture capital money sloshing around to still buy/long term lease public assets.

And most communities outside of the big cities are still probably stressed, e.g., which is why I mentioned the example of Bay City, Michigan selling two of its bridges, which will become tolled, because they can't come up with the money to fix them.

Bay City population = 33,000
Barcelona = 1.6 million

Will check out the FT cites. Thanks as always for providing them.

I guess too, it's not just about access to capital, but about growth.

DC or Barcelona have positive trajectories, they are growing. They are much better off and able to act than cities that are shrinking.

At 3:25 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

DC does have a municipal broadband network. Nonprofits can access it. And it's the backbone for providing public wifi.

They've talked about converting the streetlight "system" to a network that would include sensors and various functions and could also offer public wifi too.

At 8:49 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

yes I was actually at the meeting in 1994 where they first proposed using the streetlights not a network -- that meeting was the beginning of the wifi 802.11 specification. My only role was pulling old documents from the 1920s on what "unlicensed " or part 15 meant.

My DC water point is that muniplization isn't about "equity" but it is about the old things of power and money. Cities can use it as an opportunity to expand, or they might be in a better position to put money into it.

I realize trying to sell you on my theory of money is counterproductive; reading your obituary section makes your realize how much more we can bring to urban life. Also in terms of Toronto, you've got to divide between a productive bubble and a non-productive one.

In terms of the car2go muni option, that goes back to my point -- there won't be a "city" car sold in the US in 2020 and the future. You could use a corolla or some other cheap car they aren't city cars and don't have a special advantage. I will miss the smart cars; something to remember the tens for.

At 7:00 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Don't have the same kind of need in SLC, but I was wondering if Car2Go will be selling the cars off...

Our house in DC has a garage, with a dirt floor, not big enough for the typical modern cars, but big enough for a Car2Go.

Ironically, we never got the keys for the garage. I left it unlocked in all the years we lived there, until the fixing phase, where I even got the doors to the garage fixed. (It was kinda cool, actually, using the lock mechanism, and actually fixing the front garage door was a lot cheaper than the new door for the side.)

At 9:38 PM, Anonymous h st ll said...

"I argued for years that a government owned utility shouldn't be exempt from regulation (cf. WMATA)"

Yes please!

And water bills have gotten so high last 4 yrs or so. Not a deal breaker for a yuppie but for ppl on the margins it's a lot!

At 11:55 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

very off topic.

I'd assume the cars will be sold off, but without a dealer support network you're in for a lot of pain. Supposedly M-B will stock parts, but finding anyone who is trained on the machines is going to be hard.

It's easy to pick on DC water, but it just shows that if you can identify a funding stream and be able to max it out you can do great things.

At 1:22 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

in fairness to water authorities, a bunch of changes in EPA requirements over the past 10 years (e.g., covering treated water; separating sewage and stormwater discharge systems, etc.) have cost authorities a lot of money in having to do new engineering (e.g., DC is both building more pipes and storage facilities as well as green infrastructure to capture and divert stormwater).

DC is fortunate that it has a large enough base of users to spread out the costs. Smaller systems and shrinking cities don't have the same options (cf. Flint).

Of course, DC has enough money/cash flow to replace lead lines but continues to evade responsibility.

... remember when P. Trump talked about infrastructure and they put the idea out there of selling airports and the Corps of Engineers water infrastructure in DC as a revenue source.

The then WASA director said that since residents paid for the infrastructure over the years through charges, it ought to be just given to us.

WRT smartcars, at least in a place like DC, a specialty repair operation could develop, like the repair shops that specialize in Volvos or BMWs, etc.

But yes, an orphan vehicle becomes a problem in terms of maintenance.

At 12:27 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Hmm, dk how I feel about the NR piece.

It's another stage I guess of post-industrialism. As capital continues to replace workers what are we supposed to do?

The jobs that exist in those fields that Geohagen waxes for are increasingly knowledge-based. Maybe you don't need a college degree, but you need a lot more technical education than a typical high school degree.

One thing about the DC area vis a vis PBS is that there are three systems, you can do time shifting etc. But here, PBS Utah runs not only NHK but also the World channel, which is documentary oriented (then again we don't get WETA UK...). The World Channel, isn't available in the DC area, although MPT picks some of their programs and runs them.

Part of the America Reframed documentary series, the other night was "Detroit 48202" which was filmed over many years, featuring the route of a mailman, and the changes in building stock, etc. over the years.

They didn't fully draw out conclusions. One set of interviews was with a radical black union organizer. One of his points was that in 1959 there were 29 Chrysler plant facilities in Detroit although they never did say how many there were "now" -- I know there is the big plant on Jefferson Ave. still.

And too, over time, the plants that remained ended up "capitalizing" with robots and other automation, so that the number of workers dropped by 75%.

Yes, it's "when work disappears" + Vonnegut's _Player Piano_ (everyone has to have a PhD to get a job, even as a realtor).

So I think the complaint about "imitate us" is a bit facile.

Thinking about this, reminds me of a paper I wrote in my first upper level poli sci course final. The question started out as a conversation in a bar, over political development, order vs. equity, growth vs. social welfare, etc. I wrote the paper in a form continuing the barroom discussion. A point I made was that we were at a different stage of political and economic development, and people conveniently forgot that what Upton Sinclair described in the Chicago Stockyards really happened. Work was brutal.

The point is that transition from one stage to another is difficult, often brutal, and full of hardship.

(Which is why I argue for a deep network of social infrastructure.)

So in the case of Russia and Eastern Europe, sure people would prefer the previous stage. It might have sucked but it was stable compared to the period of change.

cf. East Germany. That's been 30 years, well funded and is equally problematic. And the failures are the primary source of the rightward turn in that country.


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