Albany Car Share on the Horizon?

A parking lot in Albany | Photo: flickr/andyarthur

This summer, a study commissioned by the Capital District Transportation Committee and the Capital District Transportation Authority proposed a bold step to take cars off the road in New York’s Capital Region: a non-profit car share program, tentatively dubbed “Capital CarShare.” Following the example of similar upstate initiatives, a group of SUNY Albany planning school graduate students worked with CDTC and CDTA to produce a business plan [pdf] for a Capital Region version this past July, and project partners are currently seeking grants for the program from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority.

Here are the program’s basics:

  • In order to use the cars, customers would make reservations online or on smart phones, pick up the car from a nearby “hub” (parking spot), and return it to the same spot after they’ve finished using the car.
  • The program would allow users to pay a monthly or yearly fee based on how much they anticipate using the cars, plus the hourly cost of usage, that would cover the price of insurance, gas, parking, and vehicle maintenance for a fleet of cars around Albany and the Capital Region.
  • The program would help fill in the gaps where transit, biking, and walking fall short of Capital Region citizens’ needs, allowing for a cheaper alternative to car ownership. The committee is also exploring the possibility of providing CDTA bus discounts for car share customers.

Given similar car share program success in places like Hoboken, the project’s backers tout the program’s potential to reduce congestion and competition for parking spaces.  “Car sharing is estimated to take seven to fourteen personal vehicles off the road [for every car share vehicle in service] and can ease parking in areas where parking is highly contested,” said Lauren Alpert, a graduate student at SUNY Albany’s regional planning program that serves as a consultant on the project. Considering that a new residential parking permit system is about to go into effect in downtown Albany this fall and several hundred state employees have been moved from office space in nearby Troy to Albany, the region may soon be looking for transportation solutions with renewed purpose.

Although privately owned car sharing companies like Zipcar and Hertz On Demand (which already operates a small service on the SUNY Albany campus) are well-known across the country, Alpert cites eligibility for government grant funding as a benefit of implementing a non-profit model of the broad program that Capital Region community leaders have long hoped for. The program would function as a non-profit, which the study states would “purposefully set a double bottom line for itself, measuring success not simply on profitability but also on improving quality of life of the neighborhoods in which it operates while reducing the environmental impact of private car ownership.”

Molly Gordon is a Tri-State Transportation Campaign intern working in the Capital Region.

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