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It’s going to be easier to live in Seattle without owning a car.

The Seattle City Council today unanimously approved new legislation that will allow up to four “free-floating car sharing pilot programs” like Car2go in the city.

Car2go has been operating in Seattle for almost two years, and the city has seen demand for the service rise in that time. Daimler-owned 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 allowed for the addition of 150 more vehicles several months later. There are now more than 59,000 registered Car2go members in Seattle — about 10 percent of the entire population here. In fact, the city says that 3-to-4 percent of Car2go members reported giving up at least one vehicle, and that each car services about six trips per day.

“The program has been wildly successful,” Transportation Committee Chair Tom Rasmussen said at Tuesday’s meeting.

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.

The ordinance that passed today will allow three other companies to enter the market with up to 750 permits each. That means by the end of 2015, there could hypothetically be 3,000 free-floating cars available to people looking to get from point A to B in Seattle. After one year, the director of transportation can change the number of permits and operators depending on data it receives from each company.

Each car-sharing company can receive 500 permits, and up to 750 if they agree to provide service in more areas of Seattle — Car2go could add another 250 vehicles if it broadens its reach. Operators must provide citywide service after two years of business in Seattle.

“The goal is to have a citywide car-sharing service available to everyone,” Rasmussen said. “I know that some of my neighbors in West and South Seattle will be very happy to have car-sharing programs in their neighborhoods.”

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.

The legislation also calls for modest increases in permit fees for each company that, according to the city, “more accurately represent program costs.”

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.

Rasmussen said he’s heard concerns about how Car2go has affected paid parking spots, but studies show that on average, just 0.7 percent of those spots are used by Car2go vehicles. Also, as SeattleMet notes, the city won’t lose overall parking revenue by allowing more companies like Car2go into the market.

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 said last month 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.”

As Steinberg noted, Seattle residents seem to like services like Car2go, which said last month that Seattle was the company’s largest U.S. market.

Another potential competitor 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. Then in October, Seattle launched a bike-sharing program.

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