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BMW revs up EV car sharing in San Francisco

<p>Citywide car-sharing service features a fleet of 70 BMW ActiveE all-electric vehicles and debut of smart parking app</p>

Luxury car maker BMW wants to become a "mobility services" company.

This week, executives from BMW came to San Francisco to showcase a flexible, premium car-sharing program featuring the all-electric BMW ActiveE.

Starting with a fleet of 70 vehicles, the program, known as DriveNow, allows enrolled drivers to take a car from one point to another and leave it, unlike other car-sharing programs which require vehicles to be returned to the same pick-up location.

Under the program, drivers can reserve a car online or through a smartphone app after registering as DriveNow members. They can pick up their cars at one of eight DriveNow stations in the San Francisco Bay Area, with plans to open more in the near future, and return vehicles to the nearest station.

Board member Ian Robertson proclaimed BMW a "mobility service provider" as part of the announcement with a focus on "developing and delivering new services to help meet the increasing need for flexible mobility solutions in our cities."

Indeed, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee backed the commitment calling the BMW car-sharing program part of a broad citywide strategy to embrace the "sharing economy, cities as solutions and sustainable mobility."

San Francisco is the first US city for the DriveNow program and the only global BMW car-sharing program that includes electric vehicles exclusively. The program was initially launched last year in Munich, Berlin and Düsseldorf and currently has 45,000 members.

But BMW is not the only automaker to launch an electric vehicle car-sharing program here in the States.

Last year, Daimler introduced a Car2Go car-sharing service in Austin and San Diego, and has since expanded to Miami, Calgary and Toronto. With more than 50,000 members, Car2Go allows renters to locate, pickup and drop-off cars within a geographic radius and includes a sizable network of 200 to 300 Daimler Smart Fortwos in each location.

Perhaps best known, Zipcar, which boasts over 700,000 car-sharing members and includes 9,000 fleet cars, also recently announced an electric vehicle pilot program in Chicago and a fleet program with the city of Houston. And Canada-based AutoShare added all electric vehicles to its fleet last summer.

As part of the San Francisco program, BMW also unveiled an online mobile parking service, ParkNow, to connect garage owners and drivers.

Noting that an estimated one-third of all downtown traffic is due to vehicles searching for a parking, ParkNow is intended to help drivers reduce time spent looking for parking, as well as emissions.

Free to download for any driver, even those not participating in the BMW car-sharing program, the app searches for available parking places getting real-time information on cost and availability.

Data on parking space availability is fast-becoming a commodity with a slew of apps creating a marketplace for garage owners and cities to bring in new revenue streams.

While most major metropolitan areas have smartphone apps to locate parking spots, San Francisco's city-sponsored SF Park program is unique.

By implementing new technologies and policies to improve parking, the citywide program reviews the availability and pricing of some 18,500 street and garage parking spots adjusting costs based on demand. This help drivers find available spots to reduce congestion while maximizing the revenue opportunity for garage owners and the city.

SF Park is not currently included in the ParkNow data listings. It'll be interesting to see what the future holds for BMW and the city of San Francisco in collaborating on mobility services.

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