Sacramento is poised to become the country's electric car capital under an ambitious program that will bring more than 400 sharable cars to city streets by spring, allowing residents to grab one at the spur of the moment and get around without owning a personal vehicle.
Two car-share companies, GIG Car Share and Envoy Technologies, are working with city officials to launch their services here, starting as early as this summer, funded by a unique Electrify America grant.
The grant funds, $44 million in total, are being paid by automaker Volkswagen as part of its punishment for installing software in its diesel cars that allowed them to cheat on smog tests.
Sacramento was chosen last year as the first recipient of an Electrify America grant and has been working since then to create programs that make it easier for residents to use zero-emission technology. The Electrify America program also includes funds to install electric-car charging stations around the city as well as to run all-electric buses between the University of California, Davis, and downtown Sacramento.
Next month, some of those funds will finance electric shuttle buses in lower-income neighborhoods around Franklin Boulevard in south Sacramento.
"We're looking for new ... creative solutions in mobility," city of Sacramento Sustainability Program Manager Jennifer Venema said. "We have studies showing us that each car-share vehicle on the road removes anywhere from eight to 13 personally owned vehicles."
The upcoming car-share vehicle program represents the most ambitious use so far for Sacramento's Electrify America grant funds.
One company, GIG Car Share, plans to bring 260 cars, possibly Chevy Bolts, to town by early 2019, allowing residents to pick them up and drop them off anywhere within a geo-coded zone in the central city, expected to be roughly the same as the current JUMP Bike rental zone.
Another firm, a small startup called Envoy, plans to bring 142 vehicles to town, and could have the first ones in use, in testing mode, as early as next month.
That duo will join Zipcar, an existing car share program that has 20 vehicles and has been in operation in Sacramento since 2013.
"This is where the city of Sacramento is truly a test bed," the city's Venema said. "We'll see what sticks and what works. This is really an experimentation phase."
Jennifer Gress, policy director for Mayor Darrell Steinberg, said the project is part of the city's goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and offering alternatives to daily use of personal cars. "We're trying to create a complete mobility system where people can get around the whole city without needing a personal vehicle."
GIG officials said their planned Sacramento fleet would be the largest fully electric car share fleet in the United States. The company, which is an AAA subsidiary, also operates a car sharing fleet of 500 Toyota Prius hybrids in Oakland, Alameda, Berkeley and Albany.
The initial plan is to set up a wide zone in the central city and possible nearby neighborhoods where drivers can find a car, via a mapping app, and then drop it off when done. Company spokesman Michael Blasky said GIG ultimately hopes to widen the pickup and drop-off zone "to eventually bring the service to everybody."
Car users can drive anywhere they want, but must leave the car parked on the street somewhere inside the zone. When using the cars or dropping them off, drivers do not have to pay for parking meters and do not have to pay to recharge the cars.
Blasky said the company is able to track when cars need a charge or need to be moved. He said users won't get stuck in cars with no juice. "We don't want people getting into cars that can only go a short distance," he said.
The fees for the cars are still being worked out. For its hybrid fleet in the East Bay, users are charged $2.50 a mile, $15 per hour or $85 a day. "The service has to be affordable to be competitive," Blasky said.
The city plans to charge GIG and other car-share companies a fee to reimburse the city for lost parking revenues, and for administrative costs. The City Council is expected to approve negotiated fee rates at its meeting next week.
Envoy, the other company working with the city and Electrify America, will use a different business approach, placing the vehicles on residential private property, notably at lower-rent apartment complexes, allowing residents there easier access to a vehicle.
"We are thrilled to advance equitable, environmentally-friendly transportation alongside Electrify America and the City of Sacramento," Aric Ohana and Ori Sagie of Envoy Technologies said in an earlier press release. "By bringing our electric vehicles to underserved communities, we're ensuring the next step in mobility is inclusive and affordable."
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