Car2go is warning thousands of Torontonians who rely on its vehicles that it may shut down after city council delayed a pilot project that would have allowed the company to buy parking permits in residential areas.
Councillors, rushing to wrap up their meeting last Thursday night, voted 30-2 to send the proposed pilot back for more study. If approved, it would have allowed the sale of some 2,000 parking permits to car-sharing companies, allowing their users to park vehicles in various downtown neighbourhoods while exempting them from three-hour limits.
Car2go CEO Paul DeLong accused councillors of lacking courage in an email to customers, and accused city hall of putting the needs of car owners above those who use short-term rentals. DeLong's letter says the company now needs to "re-examine" its Toronto operations
Does that mean shutting down its local fleet of 350 vehicles?
"All the options are on the table," Josh Moskowitz, Car2go's regional director, told CBC Toronto.
Coun. Mike Layton, who supports the pilot, says he moved to defer the matter to a future meeting because he was worried it was going to die on the council floor. He says he's confident with more time, councillors' parking concerns — mainly that they'd be getting an earful from residents who paid for parking spots but are stuck looking for a space due to an influx of shared cars — will be addressed.
Also a Car2go user, Layton says he believes the company's threat to shut down is "alarmist."
Company says Toronto's falling behind
Moskowitz says the council debate on the topic was "deeply disappointing," and noted it was clear from some of the questions that councillors hadn't read the city's report recommending the pilot.
He says Toronto is the last major Canadian city that doesn't have a framework in place to encourage car-sharing — Vancouver, meanwhile, has some 3,000 vehicles, according to a recent report.
"We've created a transportation network for the city of Toronto, without asking for any sort of subsidy or any sort of handout. At the end of the day, the city council needs to support services like ours that help Torontonians get around," he said.
'It doesn't make a lot of sense as a modern city for each individual or each household to own their own vehicle.' - Eric Portelance, Car2go user
Car2go says it has some 75,000 users in the city. Many more use similar services offered by companies like Enterprise CarShare.
Eric Portelance, the co-founder of Halo Brewery, uses shared cars and vans multiple times a week, often ferrying kegs or samples for restaurants around town.
"As a business owner, it's pretty hard not to have a vehicle," he said.
However, he says the free-floating rentals are still cheap and convenient enough that it doesn't make sense to buy a full-time beermobile. Plus, he sees a benefit in not owning a car that mostly sits idle.
"It doesn't make a lot of sense as a modern city for each individual or each household to own their own vehicle," he said, adding the shared cars often function as a "stopgap" when public transit won't work.
"It's sort of a form of private-public transportation, if you will."
Despite the support of drivers like Portelance, others have criticized Car2go for willfully breaking Toronto's parking rules, or allowing vehicles to stack up in clusters.
Car2go racking up tickets
During the debate, several councillors also questioned why Car2go has only paid about a third of the $1.1 million worth of parking tickets it owes from 2017. In case you're wondering, that's a total of 42,595 infractions.
Moskowitz refused to discuss the matter of tickets, but city statistics show Car2go paid on 99.7 per cent of its tickets 2016. "We will always comply with any laws or regulations on the books … that's the type of company that we are."
Layton says the ticket matter may be part of the problem. He says he'd like to see Car2go pass on any tickets to the drivers, which would in turn make them more cautious about where they park. He also suggests working with the company to make sure drivers know they can't park in areas where parking is already over capacity.
Revised recommendations are set to be presented to the public works and infrastructure committee in April. Car2go, meanwhile, says it will update customers on its plans in the coming weeks.