(Star Advertiser) Editorial: Hit the brakes on car-sharing plan

(Source: Honolulu Star-Advertiser)

Honolulu’s Complete Streets ordinance, adopted by the City Council seven years ago, aligns with a nationwide movement in metropolitan areas that aims to fast-track implementation of various forms of safe multimodal travel in community design.

Tailoring public streets to be comfortable for users of all ages and abilities, whether traveling by foot, bus, car, bicycle or other mode, is a sensible move. But in the case of Bill 19, which would set aside up to 80 on-street and 80 off-street parking stalls for lease by car-share companies, the city is moving too quickly.

Mayor Kirk Caldwell should veto this bill, which was approved last week with a 7-2 vote. Councilmember Heidi Tsuneyoshi, who cast a dissenting vote, rightly questioned the prudence of passing a measure that’s lacking in specifics, such as where the designated on-street stalls for car-sharing would be.

Rules for the program must still be adopted by the Department of Transportation Services. Typically, it takes a city agency between six months to a year to go through the process of adopting rules, which would include a public hearing and public comment period.

Before rule-making gets underway, though, the Council should make sure that the proposal, which would essentially privatize public space, doesn’t open the door for car-sharing companies to gobble up the city’s high-demand parking stalls.

Further, if city officials are keen to privatize for the sake of stepping up the availability of car-sharing as an alternative mode of transportation for residents not wanting the expense of owning a car, they should charge car-share companies premium rates to rent the spaces.

Subsidizing for-profit companies should not be an option. But testimony opposing the bill questioned whether that’s what’s in the works. A Halawa resident estimated that, under Bill 19, a car-sharing stall would bring the city only 25% of what it would potentially net if it charged the public $3 an hour.

The city should publicly explain its reasoning. If it fails to add up to better than a break-even financial deal, it’s a bad deal for taxpayers, especially as Honolulu Hale claims it’s struggling to cover the annual price tags for city services.

Councilman Brandon Elefante, who introduced the bill along with Councilman Joey Manahan, said big metros including New York City, San Francisco, Boston and Portland already have dedicated on-street car-sharing stalls. Elefante said each car-share vehicle can take up to 13 cars off the road, “freeing up more parking … and reducing our carbon emissions.”

It’s clear that more car-sharing — along with more ride-hailing, bike-sharing, bus- and rail-riding, and, simply, walking — could help alleviate traffic congestion and better protect the environment. But it’s unclear why the city is moving toward privatization of public stalls.

Supporting the bill is Servco Mobility Labs, which introduced Hui Car Share to Oahu in June 2018. The service, which allows customers to use smartphones to unlock and start cars for rent by the hour or day, competes with ride-hailing and rental-car companies.

Using a platform that tracks and analyzes who uses car-sharing and when, the Hui company operates nearly 100 vehicles out of 40 private stations, many of them in Waikiki and urban Honolulu. If stations, such as several parking stalls at a Kakaako residential tower, are functioning efficiently, the taking of precious public parking needs justification.

The Caldwell administration and the Council should hit the brakes on Bill 19. While its general intent is well suited to the Complete Streets vision, more public scrutiny is needed regarding limits for its reach and more answers are needed for lingering questions about how this proposal benefits the city.

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