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You may start seeing rentable BMW vehicles like this in Seattle. Photo via BMW.
You may start seeing rentable BMW vehicles like this in Seattle. Photo via BMW.

Since launching in Seattle less than two years ago, Car2go has become a popular mode of transportation with more than 59,000 registered drivers and 500 two-door vehicles zipping around town.

Given the demand, city officials now want to open the door for more companies like Car2go to operate their car-sharing businesses in Seattle.

The Seattle City Council next month will consider and potentially approve new legislation that will allow up to four “free-floating car sharing pilot programs” in the city.

Car2go lets people locate and rent available smart-cars with their smartphone or computer, drive to their destination, and park the vehicle in any approved city parking spot. The service originally launched in early 2013 with 350 cars, but the city approved the addition of 150 more vehicles several months later. Car2go, which operates more than 12,000 vehicles in 60 cities worldwide, said earlier this month that Seattle was the company’s largest U.S. market.

But now lawmakers want to provide more than just 500 free-floating cars to its citizens. The ordinance, sponsored by Transportation Committee Chair Tom Rasmussen, would allow three more companies to enter the market with up to 750 permits each. That means by the end of 2015, there could be nearly 3,000 free-floating cars available to people looking to get from point A to B in Seattle.

Car2go.
Car2go.

The legislation will be considered at the transportation committee’s Jan. 13 meeting, and if it passes, it would go to a full Council vote on Jan. 20. At a Dec. 9 committee meeting, Rasmussen said that there was still work to be done in regard to appropriate fees to charge the companies — the ordinance asks for a $400 per car increase for parking permits.

In an attached fiscal note, the city expects to bring in $2.2 million in permit revenue in 2015 with an estimated 1,300 free-floating vehicles, and $3.4 million in 2016 with 2,000 vehicles. As SeattleMet notes, the city won’t lose overall parking revenue by allowing more companies like Car2go into the market.

If the legislation passes, each car-sharing company could receive 500 permits, and up to 750 if they agree to provide service in more areas of Seattle. That means Car2go could add another 250 vehicles if they broaden their reach.

The BMW DriveNow app lets you locate rentable cars parked on city blocks.
The BMW DriveNow app lets you locate rentable cars parked on city blocks.

One company that has expressed interest in offering free-floating vehicles in Seattle is BMW, which operates its DriveNow service in six European countries and more recently launched in San Francisco with electric cars.

BMW DriveNow CEO Rich Steinberg told GeekWire that he’s been watching the regulatory environment in Seattle and is waiting for city officials to take action.

“If the regulations move forward, Seattle would be a great city for us to enter,” he said. “We recognize certain attributes of the progressive nature of citizens that make it conducive to car-sharing and Seattle ranks high on our list.”

BMW’s DriveNow service is nearly identical to Car2go, but the company has a wider selection of vehicles that offer more space than Car2go’s smart cars. If DriveNow launched in Seattle, Steinberg said there would be a combination of MINI Cooper hard-tops, two-door hatchbacks, and some smaller BMW sedans. In Europe, cars like the MINI Countryman and BMW X1 are available to rent.

In San Francisco, DriveNow operates a bit differently as users are not allowed to park in city-designated spots, but rather BMW’s own parking garages. BMW also only rents out its all-electric ActiveE vehicles in San Francisco.

Steinberg said DriveNow would likely mimic BMW’s operations in Europe versus San Francisco, since Seattle has regulations that allow free-floating vehicles to park on city streets. But he did note that his company would like to work with city officials and utility operators in Seattle to come up with potential charging solutions around town for the ActiveE cars.

“In a perfect world, we’d have curbside plug-in locations, but we don’t expect that to be available on Day 1,” Steinberg said.

Another potential competitor to Car2go could be Zipcar, which typically operates a round-trip service but recently launched a one-way program in Boston.

More car-sharing companies would add to new transportation options that have arrived in Seattle as of late. In July, the city council approved a regulatory framework that allowed on-demand transit startups like Uber, Lyft, and Sidecar to operate legally in the Emerald City.

We’ll provide an update after the city’s Jan. 13 meeting, where the transportation committee plans to vote on the proposed legislation.

Update, Jan. 13 — The committee voted 3-0 to pass the legislation. More information here.

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