“San Francisco came out absolutely at the top of the list,” Steinberg said.
But the rollout in San Francisco has not gone as smoothly as BMW hoped.
Faced with a crazy quilt of parking regulations, a slow-moving city government and a culture in which every inch of curbside space is a battleground, BMW has had to hack together a program almost entirely on its own, without the city permits that have enabled DriveNow to thrive in Europe. (The service operates in seven cities there: Munich, Berlin, Dusseldorf, Cologne and Hamburg in Germany, and Vienna and London.)
In most cities where they operate, Drive-Now and archrival Daimler’sCar2Go users can pick up a car from the curb, drive across the city and park at any legal street spot. They can do this because those cities will sell DriveNow and Car2Go a “superpermit” — a master parking pass that serves as payment for parking meters and permission to ignore time limits.
San Francisco still has not granted a superpermit, after years of lobbying.
As a result, Car2Go has not bothered to open up shop here. DriveNow allows its cars to be parked on the street in just five neighborhoods of San Francisco, and achieving that took a level of work that would be impractical, and unprofitable, to repeat in every corner of every city across the United States.
The far reaches of San Francisco, and the highly regulated, $3.50-per-hour spots of downtown, are still off-limits except for designated parking lots. The parking rules are too complicated; the risk of a car being towed is too high.
Steinberg, who previously managed testing of BMW’s all-electric ActiveE coupe in preparation for the launch of the i3 city car EV, hopes that San Francisco will embrace the company’s model this year. Otherwise, it seems car-sharing will find itself in the position of Uber, which is waging a city-by-city campaign to operate across the U.S.
“We’re not there yet,” Steinberg said. “We’re definitely working cooperatively with [San Francisco], but now we need to see if there’s a way to expand our program so we have a permit that would allow us to park throughout the city.”