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Honolulu may soon reserve 160 parking stalls — half on-street, half off — for car-sharing companies that would pay thousands of dollars less for the on-street spots than everyone else, according to a bill passed by the City Council on Wednesday.
If Bill 19 is signed by the mayor, companies like Hui Car Share, which rent out vehicles for short periods of time, could pay the city an annual fee to rent spaces without the need to pay meter rates.
The bill, sponsored by Councilmen Brandon Elefante and Joey Manahan, was passed 7-2 by the council with objections from Councilwomen Kymberly Pine and Heidi Tsuneyoshi.
“Why do we have to keep giving discounts to these for-profit companies?” Pine asked. “Why don’t we just charge them for the space the same amount a taxpayer pays?”
Car-sharing companies rent vehicles by the day or hourly. Instead of booking and picking up a car at a physical business location like the airport, car-share customers can pick up and drop off their rented vehicles from any location, including the street. Customers can use their phones to lock and unlock the vehicle, and they are billed for the time they use.
Hui Car Share advertises a Toyota Prius starting at $9.95 an hour. It markets itself as a company that allows drivers to “completely forget” about “car payments, insurance and parking.”
Under the council’s bill, car-sharing operators would have designated on-street parking spots for an annual fee that breaks down to a lower hourly rate than what average drivers pay.
Meter rates are $1.50 per hour in most areas and $3 per hour in Waikiki and downtown.
Under this bill, the city would charge car-sharing companies $2,475 per year for a space downtown, $4,380 in Waikiki and $1,350 everywhere else.
It’s different for off-street spaces. There, the car-sharing companies would pay more than others, said Wes Frysztacki, director of the Honolulu Department of Transportation Services.
“For the off-street spaces, there’s not a discount,” he said. “It’s quite the opposite.”
For instance, the city parking garage at Alii Place, across from Iolani Palace, costs the average driver $155 per month or $1,860 annually. Car-sharing services would pay $3,150, according to the bill.
The companies would also pay $20 per car for required on-street parking stickers, according to the bill. Drivers who park in spots designated for car-sharing could be fined $100.
Frysztacki would decide the locations of reserved spots, the bill states. He may not designate more than two spots for car-sharing on a single city block.
“At this point, no specific spaces have been identified,” Frysztacki said.
At Wednesday’s council meeting, Sharlene Chun-Lum testified the bill would cause “a financial loss to the city while affecting the public’s ability to find convenient parking.”
“A responsible council should consider charging car share businesses a higher rate because it will have prime spaces in prime locations saving them the cost of a building or using their own parking lot,” she said.
Choon James testified the rates are too low and represent “corporate welfare.”
A representative for Hui Car Share testified that the company serves local residents who cannot afford a car and who live or work in areas not supported by public transportation.
Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s office wouldn’t say whether he plans to sign the measure.
Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi said the car-sharing bill raised questions about Biki, the bicycle rental service run by a “public/private/non-profit partnership” that operates docking stations on Honolulu’s public streets and sidewalks for free.
“They’ve really expanded around the city so I do have reservations about the car share being the same,” Kobayashi said.
The city does not receive revenue from Biki for space it takes up, nor income from advertisements that are allowed on the bikes but prohibited on city buses, Kobayashi said. Frysztacki said Biki has “sponsors,” not advertisers.
“Those are sponsors of Bikeshare Hawaii who were given the privilege of identifying themselves on certain bicycles,” he said.
Frysztacki said the city does intend to start charging Biki, but he didn’t say how much or when.
Elefante said the car-sharing bill has the potential to lower the number of cars on the road and reduce carbon emissions.
“Car share is a transportation option for all people who want easy access to a vehicle without the cost of owning, maintaining and insuring their own car,” he said.
If the bill is enacted, Honolulu would join cities like San Francisco, New York, Boston and Portland that have dedicated on-street parking for rental cars, Elefante said.
“This would give more flexibility to car-share companies to be able to operate here in our city and provide that other transportation option,” he said.
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