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Steve Banfield, CEO of BMW’s ReachNow car-sharing service. (GeekWire / Nat Levy)

As the headquarters for BMW’s ReachNow car-sharing service, Seattle will be one of the first places people get to try out BMW autonomous vehicles.

Steve Banfield, CEO of ReachNow, said Thursday at the Economic Development Council of Seattle & King County annual Economic Forecast Conference that BMW will test out its eventual self-driving fleet through ReachNow. The company reportedly plans to test driverless cars in Germany this year.

“The benefit to having ReachNow in your region, is that you are going to be the first people to try autonomous cars from BMW,” Banfield said. “We are going to bring them here and we are going to be able to use them and test them.”

ReachNow only launched nine months ago, but it has grown fast. In that time period, it has expanded service in Seattle and come to Portland and Brooklyn. The number of users now sits above 40,000, Banfield said Thursday.

And the company is trying new things every day. ReachNow supports service to the airport. In Brooklyn, BMW is testing a new mobility service, Fleet Solutions, which places dedicated i3 and 328xi vehicles at select apartment and condominium buildings, where they will remain on-site.

That service is coming to Seattle soon, as ReachNow will place dedicated vehicles in a commercial building later this quarter, Banfield said.

ReachNow’s MINI Cooper Countryman vehicles. (BMW Photo)

Banfield sees ReachNow, which includes both a car-sharing component where people pick up a parked car and drive it from place to place and a ride-hailing taxi or Uber-like service, as an important part of the transit ecosystem. Banfield, who said he voted in favor of the Sound Transit 3 light rail package last year, said the best ways to solve today’s problems is through multi-modal solutions that include public transit, walking, biking and car-sharing services.

Where ReachNow has the most opportunity is the last mile. Banfield recounted a conversation with someone who wanted to see car-share spaces at light rail stations so people could take rail from the airport and then use a ReachNow car for that last part of the journey.

“We’re not a replacement for transit, in fact we believe we are an incredible complement to that,” he said.

One of the main reasons ReachNow decided to call Seattle home, rather than San Francisco, was because it already had an established regulatory framework for car-sharing companies like car2go. San Francisco didn’t want to work with ReachNow on legislation, so the company just picked up and moved.

Going forward, Banfield said he wants to see more consistent rules across the board, possibly at the regional level. That would allow services like ReachNow to expand regionally, outside of the city limits, without having to navigate several different sets of regulations.

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