Key West likely to start pilot car-sharing program

This is a Zipcar in another locale.
This is a Zipcar in another locale.

Key Westers may get to test drive a car-sharing company city leaders say will help solve the downtown parking crunch and encourage more eco-friendly transportation across the island.

Zipcar, the country's largest car-sharing service, became city staff's default choice for a one-year pilot program because two other car-sharing programs that were asked said no to the offer, deeming the Key West market too small.

If approved by the Key West City Commission, Zipcar will be given four reserved parking spots at a rate of $5 monthly each, or $240 total for the year.

Two spots will go in the 500 block of South Street, near the Casa Marina Resort, while the other two will be in the 500 block of Greene Street, close to Old City Hall. That number of parking spots could expand to eight, according to a proposed resolution awaiting the commission.

The proposal will first go before the Development Review Committee, which meets at 10 a.m. Thursday at Old City Hall, 510 Greene St., with the item on its agenda.

Zipcar hadn't thought of coming to Key West, Chris Hamilton, the city's newly hired bicycle and pedestrian coordinator, said in a recent report.

"However, they were intrigued by our compact, urban environment and our proximity to their operation in Miami," Hamilton wrote, adding Zipcar sees the pilot program as a way of setting up shop on other islands within the Florida Keys.

Zipcar's Miami office will manage the Key West program.

A car-sharing service works when a driver registers with the company and pays a membership fee, which includes a card key that unlocks a car when tapped on a reader affixed to the windshield.

Members may reserve a car online or with a smart phone app and they pick up and return the car to the same spot. Memberships are $25 to $75 per year and may sometimes be paid monthly, while hourly rates range from $7 to $12 depending on the type of vehicle rented.

About 13 percent of households in Key West are car-free, Hamilton said, compared to 26 percent in Miami and 9 percent in Jacksonville, and the annual cost of owning a car averages $8,485 per year, per car, according to the American Automobile Association.

Key West planning officials say car-sharing could make for a happier, healthier island.

"Parking problems exacerbate tensions in our historic neighborhoods," Hamilton's report states.