By Dan Raile : pando – excerpt
A few mornings ago I chanced on a 9”x11” slice bearing the emblem of the Municipal Transportation Agency, on a phone pole outside my apartment.
It concerned an MTA pilot project currently underway which will commercialize a public resource and grant special permission for its use for a select group of local disruptive companies, providing them competitive advantages
And it had nothing to do with Google buses. Sounds like a story, I thought, greedily, submitting to the subsequent chain of Pavlovian reactions.
Yet, it wasn’t quite the story I thought it was.
The notice announced a public hearing for two parking spots on my block that were proposed to be taken over by Zipcar, the preeminent carsharing company owned by Avis. Those spots are among 900 currently intended to be converted to car-sharing use over the next two years, divided equally among Zipcar, City Car Share and Getaround.
Another MTA Pilot, the Commuter Shuttles Policy and Pilot Project, emerged this spring to infamy and outrage. That program, which charges commuter shuttles $1 per use of city bus stops, has been operational since June 1st, so far without incident. The wave of bus blockades and protests that preceded it have also subsided.
The newest surge of tech-revulsion in San Francisco has centered on apps like MonkeyParking and ParkModo, which propose to pay some users to occupy parking spots until other users need them. The outrage these apps have induced has made it all the way to City Attorney’s office, and hinges on the unseemliness (and illegality) of private companies profiting off of public parking, an already scarce resource.
One would expect that news of the city giving away parking spots to a select group of companies would provide a healthy dose of grist to this rage-mill. Perhaps oddly, that hasn’t really been the case…
City Carshare is the elder statesman in the car-sharing market. And I don’t use the word ‘statesman’ lightly: the organization is a non-profit that, in addition to providing a service nearly identical to that of Zipcar, receives grants and donations to influence policy and legislation around “shared mobility”, and develops programs to the ensure the social equity and environmental sustainability of car sharing…
In 2011, City Carshare funded and implemented a similar but smaller pilot in partnership with the MTA. The current program derives from the lessons learned and data gathered during that first experiment. City Carshare and the MTA both point to the success of Zipcar and emergence of other competitors as proof of principle. By opening the playing field to other car sharing outfits and collecting the same data from each, the MTA hopes to better understand the effectiveness of different models.
Of the three chosen, Getaround may raise the most question marks. As a peer-to-peer car sharing network, Getaround users rent cars by the hour, as they do with Zipcar and City Carshare. But Getaround’s fleet of vehicles are private cars owned by other users. While car owners will have to pay to use the spots provided by the MTA (as do Zipcar and City Carshare), they also get paid to do so. Getaround estimates that owners make an average of $500 per month, with top earners clearing a grand…
The MTA will be hosting public hearings for spaces requested by the three organizations throughout the summer, after which the proposed spaces will be sent to the MTA’s (mayor-appointed) Board of Directors. By which I mean to say, speak now or forever hold your peace. A map of the spots requested can be found here.
The absence of backlash until now suggests either that the combatants in the so-called “culture war” in San Francisco are maturing or that the program is successfully flying under the radar. Either way, the atmosphere seems hospitable for public engagement.
Any cogent argument about the MTA’s current public-private programs has to rise above the level of “It’s capitalism and if you don’t like it, you can leave” or “Corporations are evil”, to address the complexities of the City’s efforts to reduce the number of cars in its streets and the validity of its mandate to do so.
For any still-unconvinced, self-proclaimed anarchists, I suggest consulting the American anarchist canon before taking up thy bullhorn. In particular, have a look at Paul Goodman’s 1961 essay “Banning Cars in Manhattan,” in which he proposed substituting private cars with increased mass transit and electric taxicabs. Ask yourself, anarchist, whether shared car services deserve parking spaces in your utopia… (more)
Thanks for the detailed information on the program.
Most of the effort so far has been to get an initiative on the ballot in November. Now that is secured, there is time for a broader discussion about the “shared economy”. The public space giveaway to corporations program just feeds more anger and bitterness toward the SFMTA.