Can developers tempt city dwellers to go car-free?

Article by William Polk
Cable car on the street of San Francisco uber
Image credit: Shutterstock

For people paying significant sums to rent an apartment in a prime U.S. city, many would expect a parking space as part of the deal. A new concept in San Francisco, however, is turning that traditional expectation on its head.

Uber and Parkmerced, San Francisco’s largest multifamily community, have partnered to create a first-of-its-kind program that will pay tenants to go car-free. The agreement will offer new tenants a $100-monthly travel stipend to use with Uber and public transit, with a minimum $30 required for Uber. In addition, Uber will cap Uber Pool rides to and from Parkmerced to local public transit hubs at $5.

“A parking space in San Francisco is incredibly hard to come by,” says Stephen Jackson, Senior Vice President, Capital Markets, Multifamily Investments at JLL. “Developers and the city are always at odds with each other on this issue, and there’s also talk about charging cars to enter the city during rush hours like they do in London. This partnership between Uber and Parkmerced could be a solution to the problems of vehicle congestion and lack of parking.”

Programs like this could easily spread to other cities across the U.S. and further afield where there is a limited supply of parking, according to Jackson. “This type of partnership has potential in any urban setting that is building vertically through high rises,” which means New York, Chicago, Hong Kong, Singapore, Sao Paulo or Seoul could be candidates for similar programs in the future.

Carless in the city

For people wanting to live in the city center the new model has several advantages, from saving time by allowing people to focus on other tasks – rather than the road – when stuck in traffic jams to potentially saving thousands of dollars by removing the annual cost of insurance payments, parking, gas, tickets and maintenance.

In an arrangement like this, there are strong financial advantages for developers as well. Parking spaces in high-rise buildings are often underground, and costs grow with every floor a developer needs to dig down. Digging parking space is also very time consuming in the high-rise process and adds months to the development timeline.

In addition, rather than charge a few hundred dollars per month for a parking space, car-sharing programs like Zipcar will gladly exceed that asking price in exchange for use of that spot for their car.

“It’s very interesting what they’re doing,” Jackson says. “An arrangement like this one solves the car issue. People don’t need them in the city, and city car-share groups will pay developers more money than a tenant will to house a car in the building.”

Whether other residential developments catch on to the idea remains to be seen – especially in the U.S. where 90 percent of households own a car, but with space at a premium and congestion an issue in cities across the world, such schemes could provide a solution which benefits all.

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