Detroit partners with Maven in first step to support car-sharing
Detroit — Patty Fedewa hasn't owned her own car since January 2009, but she typically needs one to pick up her 11-year-old daughter from a private school in Grosse Pointe Woods.
"The bus service is not adequate to pick up my daughter," said the 50-year-old attorney, who lives in Detroit's West Village. Her husband uses the one family car. "Most of the time I'm not in the car for more than one hour, and it's not worth it to buy a car."
Instead, Fedewa is a member of the growing population in North America opting to rely on car-sharing services to get around. Municipalities around the globe, including the city of Detroit, are taking action as these services expand in hopes of increasing transportation access, alleviating congestion and, in some cases, encourage environmental sustainability.
Fedewa typically rides a bus or bikes from her job downtown to pick up a Chevy stationed at the Alden Park Towers a few blocks from her home. The vehicle is a part of the car-sharing fleet operated by General Motors Co.'s Maven, a service Fedewa has used since Avis Budget Group's Zipcar left her neighborhood in November 2017.
"It's much cheaper," Fedewa said. "It saves us space, I don't have to worry about maintenance issues, and I'm not paying for parking. It's a freeing thing."
Detroit and Maven late last month launched a pilot program that lets Maven park cars in its 35-plus vehicle Detroit fleet in six on-street parking spaces in downtown, Midtown, Corktown and Southwest Detroit.
"It provides very easy access for our member base to find these vehicles," said Alex Hoolehan, Maven assistant general manager in Detroit. "That was a driving force behind this pilot: bringing transportation to communities that really need it."
Maven operates a station-based car-sharing service in 17 North American cities, fueling 300,090 reservations to 215,727 members since 2016 as of Monday.
Its smartphone app allows customers to locate an available vehicle to drive, unlock it in the app and rent the car starting at $8 per hour. When finished, customers return the vehicle where they found it. Most costs for gas, insurance and parking are included. Its peer-to-peer service boosts available vehicles on the app to around 100 in Metro Detroit.
Prior to its pilot program with the city, Maven only rented spaces in parking garages and lots for its corporate fleet. On-street parking makes more Maven-owned vehicles available. In the first two weeks of the program, all six vehicles have been used multiple times, Hoolehan said.
Signs now designate these reserved parking spaces near Bagley and Trumbull, Woodward and Clifford, Woodward and West Adams, West Warren and Second, and Vernor and Calvary, as well as at the Prentis Building on Cass.
Maven is paying $62.50 monthly for non-metered right-of-way spots and $125 for metered right-of-way locations. Its monthly bill to reserve the six spots is $437.50, according to the city.
Unlike some other companies that had approached the city as early as two years prior, Maven committed to expanding its market beyond downtown and Midtown, said Garry Bulluck, Detroit's mobility innovations deputy chief.
"Downtown is a prime market for businesses," he said. "But we as a city need to make sure this service is available beyond that and that the pilot exists outside the downtown area. Our goal is to make sure Detroiters are able to move around, be it by bus, car, scooter, etc. We want to make sure they are participating in this resurgence."
The Maven pilot is a test case for car-sharing services that the city hopes will expand and could lead to more service adoptions in the future, Bulluck said.
Maven has similar partnerships in cities such as Denver and San Francisco that vary in size.
A growing trend
North America is the third-largest market for car-sharing services in the world behind Asia and Europe, according to a report published last year by the University of California Berkeley. In 2016, car-share services had 26,691 vehicles available for their membership that had a two-year compound annual growth rate of 6 percent to more than 1.8 million users.
Services like Maven's dominate the worldwide marketplace with 69 percent of car-sharing members participating in roundtrip services.
But station-based operations have their limitations, Fedewa noted: "It would be even faster if I could take a car from downtown, pick up my daughter and drop it off in my neighborhood. I wouldn’t have to return it to the same location."
Free-floating car-share services that do just that have seen membership increase worldwide by 76 percent between 2014 and 2016 particularly among more densely populated regions, according to the Berkeley study. These one-way services such as BMW Group's ReachNow and Daimler AG's Car2go allow customers to pick up a car and then park it anywhere in the service zone when they are done.
None so far have entered Detroit, but they are appearing in other major cities in the country. Operators using software from French technology company Vulog will be in eight North American cities by the middle of this year, said Alex Thibault, Vulog vice president and general manager for North America. He was unable to say if that includes Detroit.
Cities that are attractive to these ventures are those that have worked quickly to issue car-sharing parking permits at scale and at a competitive price, Thibault said. He cited Madrid as the "golden example." Vulog powers two services there: Wible, a joint venture between Kia Motor Group and Spanish oil producer Repsol SA; and French automaker PSA Groupe's Emov.
"They said if you're running electric vehicles, you don't need to pay for parking," he said. "That takes out a huge cost and is a great way if you're trying to push your residents toward electric mobility. The reaction was that four services launched in a couple of years there."
Detroit's Bulluck didn't count out such partnerships in the future, noting the city always is "entertaining new ideas."
Future of mobility
Alex Keros, Maven's chief of smart cities, said free-floating car-sharing isn't in the service's scope in the near term.
"Those models are very challenging," Keros said. "We want to support what members want, but there are operational challenges with managing parking."
Ford Motor Co. spokeswoman Karen Hampton said in a statement that car-sharing is not a core component of the Dearborn automaker's mobility portfolio in the United States right now. It, however, does have an investment in India's Zoomcar.
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV began testing Jeep car-sharing in January in Boston with San Francisco-based Turo Inc., which allows car owners to list their vehicles for rent.
Reports also have appeared that FCA and PSA could be in talks to form an alliance, which FCA CEO Mike Manley did not deny last month.
In October, PSA launched free-floating car-share service Free2Move in Washington, D.C. The automaker chose the nation's capital because of its already-robust mobility ecosystem, said Lynn Blake, PSA North America vice president of mobility. It also purchased permits to allow customers to park on streets and in residential areas.
For now, Free2Move has 400 Chevrolet Cruze sedans and 200 Chevrolet Equinox SUVs in Washington. They were chosen for the roominess they provide to users who wish to carry goods or travel with others, Blake said.
The Washington launch was an early step for PSA to re-enter the North American retail market after it left in 1991, Blake said. The company plans to expand to other U.S. cities and introduce its own vehicles, first the Peugeot brand, to the service after bringing them to market safety standards. After that, PSA hopes to sell vehicles here again. No timeline has been announced.
"There's a link between our mobility services and our vehicles," Blake said. "We need to understand consumers and their behaviors and what they do in their daily lives. We believe this information is useful for a mobility strategy but also a retail strategy."