Grand Rapids prepares to roll out EV car-sharing program

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — If you need a car in a pinch, the city of Grand Rapids will soon be able to help you out.

The City Commission approved $500,000 Tuesday for a three-year pilot car-sharing program. Drivers will be able to rent one of six plug-in electric vehicles starting this spring.

The program, in the works since 2018, is aimed to help those in need get an affordable vehicle.

“I think this will be a complete game changer for people,” said Ariana Jeske, the assistant director of Mobile GR.

The city’s revenue from downtown parking will help pay for the pilot program. Organizers hope to expand to 12 vehicles and add more charging stations between six months and a year after the program starts. They want a nonprofit to eventually take over the program a few years later.

Residents can rent vehicles by the hour for $5 per hour. They will be charged an extra 40 cents per mile once they hit 150 miles. Drivers can also pay a flat fee of $50 to reserve the vehicle for 24 hours. There will be no limit on how far they can drive as long as they return the vehicle within a day.

“We want to make sure these vehicles are available for multiple users to use, not necessarily somebody making it their permanent vehicle in a way,” Jeske said.

Drivers must be 21 or older to sign up. They also must possess a valid driver’s license and have no major infractions on their record, like reckless driving or operating under the influence. Drivers don’t need their own insurance. That’s handled by Mobility Development, the city’s vendor for the project. Not all denials from the program are permanent.

“It’s a points system,” Richard Kosmacher, Mobility Development’s senior project manager, said Tuesday. “As long as you’re under that total number of points, we will approve you per our insurance. You can reapply because depending on the severity of the infraction, it ultimately goes away.”

If approved, drivers receive an online orientation and download the company’s app, which they can use to reserve cars, lock and unlock them and pay for them. Mobility Development has a 24/7 call center to help drivers in need.

If a driver gets a parking ticket in a rented vehicle, Mobility Development will pay the initial fee but then pass that along to the driver. Any speeding tickets are given directly to the driver, Jeske said.

The electric vehicles will likely be “lightly used” at time of purchase, Jeske said. While the exact model of car hasn’t been determined yet, organizers are hoping to purchase cars assembled in the United States.

Each vehicle will be assigned to one of six public lots around the city, which Jeske described as areas with “low vehicle ownership and low-to-moderate income.” The city will install four charging stations at its Madison Square Lot, Burton-Division Lot, West Fulton Street Lot, and Eastown Ethel Lot for an additional cost of $220,000. The remaining two spots, which will be at downtown parking facilities, already have electric vehicle charging stations. Drivers must return the vehicle from the lot they rented it from.

Staff can always track the vehicle’s location and speed. Mobility Development can even stop the vehicle. While the driver’s information will be known to the company, city workers won’t be able to tell who is driving each vehicle, Jeske said.

“It will be anonymized,” Jeske said. “We won’t know Joe Smith is taking a car on this road, we will see a user took a car on this road. They’ll give us trip history, destinations, usage details. That’s a lot of the data we’re going to use to inform our expansion on our second phase, where people are going with these vehicles, where they’re getting the greatest utilization.”

Mobility Development will own, maintain and insure the vehicles, Jeske said. She explained that the city is essentially paying a service fee with a contract containing large insurance requirements, including professional liability, general liability and automobile liability insurance.

“They’ll be licensed and insured for all the things you would have to drive a vehicle in Michigan,” Jeske said.

Mobility Development is already running a similar program in Kalamazoo.

Grand Rapids’ legal and risk departments approved the plans and felt the city is well-protected, Jeske said. The city is also responsible for installing and maintaining the charging stations. Grand Rapids is also considering installing cameras in the cars, but a public hearing would be required to make that happen.

“We want them to be comfortable using them and not feel like they’re being monitored,” Jeske said. “It’s kind of a balance we’re still looking for at this moment.”

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