Hoboken's Ian Sacs (right) and Juan Melli with a Corner Car. (Jim Motavalli photo)
HOBOKEN, NEW JERSEY--Fresh off the $1.75 PATH tubes from Manhattan, I am standing on a pleasant residential street lined with brownstones in downtown Hoboken, New Jersey with the boyish Ian Sacs, head of the city's transportation and parking bureau. In front of me is a Toyota Prius, just like any other except for the fact that it is parked in a green-lined space...and just about anyone in Hoboken could drive it.
Welcome to Corner Cars, Hoboken's municipal car-sharing program, undertaken in conjunction with the mainstream player Hertz Connect. Residents pay $25 to join, but they get a $75 credit which can be applied to reserving cars on a per-hour basis. The program, just a few weeks old, has 200 members and 42 cars (two-seater Smarts are the cheapest at $5 an hour) in the first wave. Corner Cars claims that three families so far have given up their cars (and four more have made inquiries about it), but as many as 750 could take that step soon, the program estimates.
With a light rain falling, Sacs swiped his smart card across the Prius' windshield and it unlocked. They let me drive, so we cruised the dense downtown (45,000 people in 1.3 square miles) and saw Corner Cars (Toyota Yarises, Priuses, Smart cars) all over the place. We drove past Carlos' Bakery, across from City Hall, and saw a line two blocks long. For cupcakes? It all became clear, when I learned that the bakery is the setting for the Cake Boss food reality show.
We even encountered a young bike rider who'd recently moved to Hoboken, with easy mobility being a factor. He was accessing a Smart car for his friend who was late for a job interview, and loves the program--especially the $75 credit after a $25 payment. Here's the view from the street:
Hoboken already had the commercial Zipcar car-sharing service, ensconced for seven years and very popular, too. According to research from that program, one shared car takes 17 off the road. It makes sense. Among its other issues, Hoboken has very tight parking. The one complaint about Corner Cars is that it takes over downtown parking spaces (the charge does not go unrefuted). But you'd only make that argument if you don't believe that car sharing actually works--it gets people out of vehicles entirely, remember?
As the shipping business evaporated, this once-gritty city slumbered through the 50s and 60s -- its one saving grace was ultra cheap rents. But the loft revolution revived a city that has been largely spared the ravages of urban renewal. Hoboken still has problems -- the last mayor, Peter Cammarano, was indicted and pled guilty to extortion conspiracy. Current mayor Dawn Zimmer is the reform candidate.
Sacs is a reformer, too, and he has launched a program to get residents to "surrender" their hard-won parking permits. If they agree to turn them in, they get credits for Corner Cars, additional discounts on regular car rentals, three free months on the community shuttle bus service, and reduced prices at the local bike stores, too. Sounds like a deal to me. With the combination of the PATH trains, Corner Cars, a bike and a walkable downtown, a car is a liability in Hoboken.
Hoboken's crowded streets. (Jim Motavalli photo)
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