Like many high-end New York apartment buildings, the new Solaire development in Lower Manhattan offers complementary access to a full gym and a 24-hour concierge. What's different about its amenities is in the parking lot: Residents can avail themselves of a fleet of BMWs, including four i3s, the elegant new electric vehicle.
The exclusive service, launched in December, is meant to attract millennials who don't want the hassle of owning a car and prefer to buy mobility on-demand. "When someone comes to look at a unit, [the landlord] can say we've got a pool, gym, a cleaner and we've got a car. It's the last possible, amazing amenity they can offer," says Adam Lubinsky, managing principal of design firm WXY, which has been involved in the project.
But apart from being a perk, the program could be a model to widen access to mobility services, reduce the need for mandatory parking spaces in new developments, and take pressure off public transit, according to Lubinsky. "There are locations where developers are looking to reduce their parking requirements and increasingly we're seeing car-share spaces as a negotiating device [in planning discussions]. This is a reason for policy-makers to reduce parking requirements," he says.
Below 96th Street in Manhattan and in most of Brooklyn and Queens, developers are not mandated to offer parking spaces. But in outer boroughs and outside metro-New York, there are requirements, and car-sharing is already having an effect. For example, New Rochelle, in Westchester County, allows developers to ditch three conventional car spaces for every car-share space.
Paul Lipson, of Barretto Bay Strategies, an urban policy consulting firm, says residential car-sharing could also reduce the need for new transit and thus open up "edge" developments in under-served parts of cities. Barretto and WXY are currently negotiating with developers in Long Island City, New York, Fort Lee, New Jersey, and on the far west side of Manhattan about putting in car-share programs there. "There needs to be a remedy to the inaccessibility of some of these sites, where there's a lack of immediate access to mass transit," he says.
Solaire's car-share is a tailored version of ReachNow, BMW's Zipcar-like mobility subsidiary. The public ReachNow is available in Seattle, Portland,e and Brooklyn, with other cities coming on board this year, according to the car-maker. Opening up semi-private residential schemes allows BMW to extend its reach without haggling with cities over public parking spaces—a hard task in congested urban centers.
Lipson and Lubinsky say cities could spur private car-sharing by awarding tax breaks and "density bonuses" to developers that take on the idea. They see it as a way of expanding vehicle sharing without taking up more public space. "This is an opportunity to create a new form of zero-emission mobility," Lipson says.