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Electric vehicles are new amenity at this Manhattan apartment building

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A spinoff of the BMW ReachNow system, this new car share program might be the next green tenant perk

BMW i3 electric cars
A row of electric BMW i3’s that are part of a new car-sharing program being launched for residents of a Manhattan apartment building.

The Solaire, an LEED-certified, solar panel-covered apartment building on the southern tip of Manhattan in BatteryPark City, just burnished its green credentials by adding a new amenity. In partnership with BMW, the development will now offer four BMW i3 electric vehicles as part of a pilot car share program only accessible by tenants, the first in the nation. Designers hope the test will prove to be a potential model that can help other property owners help reduce congestion and pollution.

Launched on December 8, the trial is an extension of the automaker’s ReachNow program. Residents of the Solaire and neighboring Verdesian, which contain a total of 700 units, can use the system. The system offers convenient and sustainable urban mobility while potentially cutting parking minimums for developers, according to Paul Lipson, president of urban policy consulting firm Barretto Bay Strategies, and Adam Lubinsky, managing principal of WXY Architecture + Urban Design, who both helped create the model and introduce it to this complex.

The Solaire in Manhattan’s Battery Park neighborhood
The Solaire in Manhattan’s Battery Park neighborhood

“We found it was an ideal place, considering the orientation of the developers towards green and renewable technology, and the profile of the tenants,” says Lipson. “With zero-emission vehicles and less parking spots, you layer in a great policy incentive that helps mitigate carbon emissions while allocating more space for housing, and mitigate congestion in the streets, since you’ll have less people circling for a parking spot.”

The system mimics other car-share programs. Users book via an app and pay a flat-fee per-minute when using a car. There’s also a $35, one-time registration fee. The program offers access that come with having the system only accessible by other tenants, and the reserved, high-speed chargers make it easy to refuel.

Lubinsky sees this type of system having applicability beyond Manhattan apartments. He’s worked on other electric vehicle initiatives, including systems near train stations in parts of the Hudson Valley for weekend visitors, as well as programs for downtown commuters in cities such as New Rochelle, and believes car share systems can help with congestion and access, while catering to the rising desire among millennial to avoid or delay car ownership. After setting up its own system, New Rochelle planners removed two parking spaces for every car share spot.

ReachNow charging station
ReachNow charging station

Resident Mark Tarlov, who has lived in the Solaire with his wife since 2004, has used the new car-share system twice since it went online in December. He normally rents car 15-20 times a year, and since he often arrives home after the local Hertz rental location closes, he has to park the rental in the building and pay late fees. ReachNow has been a much better option so far, he says, with easy access and no parking issues.

“It’s like ZipCar but only for you,” he says. “It’s a perfect fit for the Manhattan lifestyle. When you think of it as part of the green and sharing economy, it really starts to strike home. It’s part of a rich and full and convenient life, it’s not a pain in the ass at all. We’re renting a car and don’t have to get gas.”

Lubinsky sees the ReachNow pilot growing over time, with a smaller ratio of users to cars to optimize the balance, especially during busier weekend rushes. He feels this model of residential car-sharing can make a big difference, especially in a city a region that has wrestled with issues around car ownership.

“This works in affordable housing, it works in suburban housing developments where people need car to get everywhere,” Lipson says. “We think this has great potential for metros around the northeast. There’s a great opportunity to serve affordable housing developments, as well as places near the city that have commuter rail access but not great intra-city transport.”