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Bothered by Permits, BMW to End its DriveNow Car Sharing Program in San Francisco Next Month

With tight-narrow streets, property prices sky-high and parking a premium, you’d be forgiven for thinking that car sharing services like BMW’s DriveNow ad-hoc car club would be the perfect choice for electric car-friendly, eco-conscious, tech-loving San Francisco.

But despite three incredibly successful years and hopes that it would expand its program to cover as many of San Francisco’s suburbs as possible, BMW has been forced to pull the plug on its ad-hoc electric car sharing service due to a lack of available parking space permits.

Drive Now has changed the way you can hire an electric car -- but it's leaving San Francisco.

Drive Now has changed the way you can hire an electric car — but it’s leaving San Francisco.

The idea behind it was simple: book an available electric car by the hour from BMW’s extensive fleet of BMW Active E and BMW i3 electric cars via BMW’s DriveNow website or a neat smartphone app; turn up and use your smartphone to unlock the car; and enjoy the pleasures of zero emission car sharing.

Ever since the program launched in San Francisco in 2012, visitors and locals alike have enjoyed the freedom of renting a high-quality electric car, first using a fleet of 1-Series BMW ActiveE electric sedans and then more recently, the production-built BMW i3 hatchback. Indeed, as recently as this past summer, BMW executives were looking to expand the program to cover as much of the San Francisco Bay area as possible.

As BMWBlog details, BMW made the surprise announcement yesterday that it would be suspending the DriveNow program on November 2, citing a lack of support from the city of San Francisco.

The problem seems to revolve around the lack of provision under city law for parking spaces reserved exclusively for one-way car sharing services. Without the necessary provision and permit category, BMW says it’s impossible to keep the project running in its current form.

BMW's DriveNow fleet feature BMW Active E and BMW i3 electric cars

BMW’s DriveNow fleet feature BMW Active E and BMW i3 electric cars

“Until the current regulations are amended, we must suspend service in the San Francisco Bay Area,” the statement from BMW reads.  “We fully expect to return once the city reforms its parking policies to allow for one-way car sharing. We will continue to work with the city of San Francisco toward achieving that goal.”

Earlier this year, our very own Electragirl visited San Francisco and availed herself the opportunity to test out the DriveNow service for herself. Save for a few headaches involving the locking and unlocking of her borrowed BMW i3 — caused by a lack of RFID smart card more than anything else — Electragirl’s rental experience was generally good.

While BMW is closing its DriveNow fleet in San Francisco however, the company says it is committed to the DriveNow fleets operating elsewhere in the world like Berlin and London.

Drive Now uses smartphone technology to help users book and locate available cars.

Drive Now uses smartphone technology to help users book and locate available cars.

While it’s not entirely clear what will happen to the cars on the San Francisco fleet, we’re guessing the majority will find a home in other DriveNow Fleets. And with a fleet of cars already in the U.S. looking for a new home, BMW says it’s already looking at other U.S. cities to cite the fleet.

“We hope to return to San Francisco in the future and will continue to engage with the City on possible solutions that will allow you to experience the full benefits of our one-way car sharing service,” said Richard Steinberg, CEO DriveNow in an official statement to DriveNow customers.  “In the meantime, we are focusing our efforts on new cities where our transportation solution can flourish. We would like to thank you for your loyal support and embracing flexible car sharing as an alternative transportation method.”

Have you used the DriveNow service before? What were your impressions of the service? And do you think the city of San Francisco needs to do more to encourage car share schemes?

Leave your thoughts in the Comments below.


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  • vdiv

    That’s really unfortunate. Maybe BMW can run the service in other more amenable US cities.

    • Michael Thwaite

      That’s what I’ve heard.

      It is a shame as using it as a vacation car rental service was infinitely preferable to renting some old fashioned car.

  • Anthony

    Yes, disappointing; I had joined and had planned to rent one during the holidays, but got the message from them just prior. I hope they’ll be back. I guess they need to buy some lots to park their cars around the city since SF wouldn’t allow them to stay parked when not being used. It makes sense to not allow public street parking space to be used for private gain.

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