A program expanding shareable car services citywide has taken street parking spots away from locals in The Bronx — even after the city said it would look into placing the spots on private property instead.
Members of Bronx Community Board 10 say the city Department of Transportation (DOT) ignored a list of suggested private parking spaces for the growing curbside car-share initiative, which gave dedicated street spots to Zipcar, Getaround, and Truqit rentals.
The car-share initiative was launched in 2018 with a three-year pilot program that claimed nearly 300 new parking spaces across the city for the private companies. DOT wants to expand car-sharing — which allows people to use a phone app to rent a car for a short period of time and pick it up at a curbside spot or city parking facility — because it has been shown to discourage car ownership and thus reduce traffic congestion and pollution.
According to emails obtained by THE CITY, per CB10’s request to find alternate spaces for the shareable vehicles, the DOT in January sent the board a list of over 200 businesses the agency said it had contacted about purchasing private parking spaces.
But when CB10 followed up with many of those businesses or organizations — including Bronx Honda, Con Sofrito restaurant and the Zoodohos Peghe Greek Orthodox Church — they said they either hadn’t heard from DOT at all, or did not offer private parking spots, according to District Manager Matthew Cruz and board Municipal Services Committee Chair Bob Bieder. THE CITY called or emailed those businesses but did not receive a response.
In October, the DOT and Zipcar presented the idea of grabbing street parking spaces for the commercial endeavor to the community board’s municipal services committee. At that meeting, according to CB10 minutes, committee members objected to the proposal, citing high rates of car ownership in the community district, and recommended that the ride-share companies rent private spaces.
The transportation agency initially proposed 24 parking spots, but after feedback from CB10, that number was halved.
Net Reduction in Cars
There are now a dozen parking spots reserved for cars managed by car-sharing companies in the Westchester Square and Pelham Bay neighborhoods between Wilkinson Avenue and Bruckner Boulevard.
“The car-share program is not a problem, per se. But the problem exists when they want to take street parking from residents,” Bieder told THE CITY on Friday. “There’s absolutely no reason why these companies that want to do the car-share program should pay the city of New York for street parking, as opposed to paying for off-street parking somewhere else.”
Car-share companies taking part in the program pay the city just $475 in annual site permit fees per pair of curbside spaces, according to the DOT’s website.
Transportation officials argue that the car-sharing program benefits all New Yorkers by lowering the number of vehicles spewing exhaust on the roads.
“The data shows that convenient access to car-share frees New Yorkers from the burden of car ownership — while helping to fight climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and vehicle miles traveled,” said DOT spokesperson Vincent Barone.
“DOT conducted outreach to community boards and took all feedback into account, including the removal and relocation of several proposed locations in CB10 based on the board’s input,” Barone said.
The DOT is not involved in car-share negotiations with private garages or lots, according to the agency.
Zipcar spokesperson Ashley Leduc told THE CITY in an email on Friday that car-sharing helps provide vehicle access to those who wish to avoid the cost or hassle of owning one.
“Zipcar’s mission is to enable simple and responsible urban living by taking away the need for personal car ownership,” Leduc wrote.
She added that by the company’s estimation, with each Zipcar in use, “up to 13 personally owned vehicles are removed from the road, providing more open space for all New Yorkers. In The Bronx, Zipcars are utilized on average by 40 households per month and for about 10 hours.”
The DOT’s car-share program was launched as a trial in 2018. Last month, the department announced that major expansion would begin to add hundreds of on-street parking spots in all boroughs except Staten Island. Twelve of those first 80 parking spots have been installed in the Pelham Bay and Westchester Square areas, as The Bronx Times reported.
As the agency announced an expansion of the program, DOT said the car-share companies it works with used “customer demand” to determine where the new spots will go. The neighborhoods selected for the car-share spots must also meet the requirements of “Equity Zone Areas” designed to reach underserved New Yorkers.
Anyone, including residents in Bronx Community Board 10 — which encompasses the neighborhoods City Island, Co-op City, Country Club, Locust Point, Pelham Bay, Throggs Neck, Westchester Square and Zerega — can use the car-sharing program. Any driver illegally parked in those reserved spots risks a ticket from an NYPD traffic agent or being towed.
However, locals on CB10 say they don’t need the corporate wheels. About 60 to 80% of residents in CB10 already own cars, according to census estimates compiled by the city’s Economic Development Corporation in 2018, among the top districts for car ownership in the borough. Citywide, just 45% of city residents own cars; in The Bronx, 40% do.
“Parking is a major issue in this city as a whole … parking is in high demand,” said Bieder, noting that in Pelham Bay and Westchester Square many residents will drive to train stations to ride the subway to work and leave their vehicles parked until they commute back from their jobs. “To give up on-street parking just makes life difficult for the residents throughout our entire community.”
Several organizations who do own private parking spots were not eager to give them up.
In emails to CB10, at least one property owner said they likely could not accommodate a private parking spot. Another, Our Lady of the Assumption Roman Catholic Church located in Pelham Bay, echoed the same.
“We haven’t been contacted. We probably wouldn’t have been able to rent it anyway. Our insurance doesn’t allow us to rent or sell spaces,” Father John Knapp, a priest at the church, told THE CITY last week.
Cruz, the district manager, told THE CITY that while residents ultimately were opposed to any initiative that removed on-street parking spaces, DOT’s lack of follow-through fanned the flames.
“There are people who are very upset that this particular area of Pelham Bay continues to hemorrhage parking spaces in our most central commercial district,” Cruz said, referring to the dozen lost spots.