Councilors voice concerns about parking discount for Zipcar

NORTHAMPTON — While the City Council likes the idea of a car-sharing service such as Zipcar operating downtown, a few councilors voiced concern Thursday about giving the company subsidized parking to draw them here.

They urged Mayor David J. Narkewicz to keep that in mind as he negotiates a lease with the company for parking spaces. Zipcar wants to add two vehicles downtown to its existing six-car fleet now available on the Smith College campus.

The council approved a pair of requests Thursday — by an 8-1 vote, with Vice President Jesse M. Adams opposed — dedicating up to six spaces in the E.J. Gare Parking Garage or other city parking lots for car-sharing services. The measures also authorize the mayor to negotiate leases for the spaces.

Ward 7 City Councilor Alisa F. Klein said she hesitantly voted yes on the requests. Though she likes the car-sharing concept, Klein pointed out that Zipcar was purchased by Avis for $500 million last year.

She said a “mega-corporation” does not need a $9,000 bonus to come to the city. Parking officials estimate one space in the garage generates about $4,400 in annual revenue, she said.

“I support this with reservation, just related to this particular point about parking spaces,” Klein told Narkewicz. “I really want to encourage you to keep in mind that we are talking about Avis, a corporation that is making an awful lot of money from Zipcar.”

Adams said while he also supports car-sharing, he could not vote in favor of the requests without a guarantee that Zipcar will not get a discount on parking spaces. “I would never vote yes if they get a discount. There’s just no way,” he said.

Adams said the company does not need a financial incentive to test whether the idea will work downtown because Zipcars already have proven to be successful at Smith College.

“There’s no risk for them, really,” Adams said.

He said offering spaces at reduced prices is not fair to other businesses, such as taxi cab companies, or to existing lease holders who pay $90 a year to park in the garage but often cannot find a space because there are more pass holders than dedicated parking spots.

Narkewicz said he will take into account the concerns during negotiations, but he made no promises about what a deal might include.

“I’m cognizant of the concerns that I’m hearing and I’m hearing it from the public about this,” Narkewicz said. “At the same time, I do think there’s a benefit to the city from having access to the car-sharing, so I’m going to try to weigh those two issues.”

Narkewicz announced in February that two Zipcars could replace up to 30 privately owned vehicles, reducing traffic congestion and freeing more parking spaces downtown.

Ward 3 City Councilor Ryan R. O’Donnell suggested a lease in which a temporary discount might be in place for one year as an enticement, but then removed if Zipcar is successful.

Ward 1 City Councilor Maureen T. Carney said she would like to see some specific language about the benefits to the city that might make accepting a discount more desirable.

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