By Julie Shapiro
LOWER MANHATTAN — Dozens of city workers accustomed to cruising around town in personal government cars will now have to share a pool of rentals, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced Tuesday.
The 11-month pilot program, which started this month, cuts the city Department of Transportation's fleet down from 50 personal cars to 25 shared ones through the Zipcar service.
"It reduces congestion on our streets and pollutants in our air," Bloomberg said Tuesday, standing before a pair of Prius models that are part of the program.
Zipcar is a membership-based car-sharing service that gives users to access to vehicles across the country.
To encourage the DOT's 300 workers to stay off the streets when traffic is heaviest, just five to 10 of the shared cars will be available during rush hour, Bloomberg explained.
The program will also make it more difficult for DOT workers to use government cars for personal purposes, the mayor added. DOT employees will reserve the cars by the hour, and the agency will use GPS technology to track where the vehicles go.
"The abuse of sometimes taking the car home is not going to be possible here," Bloomberg said. "Hopefully if you make it a little harder, people won't make unnecessary trips."
Since Zipcar stores the vehicles in off-street garages, the car-share program will free up dozens of parking spots near Department of Transportation headquarters on Water Street, Bloomberg said.
At night and on weekends, the 25 vehicles — which include 23 hybrid cars and two vans — will be available for the public to rent through Zipcar.
The city will pay Zipcar nearly $200,000 for use of the 25 cars, parking, maintenance and insurance through August 2011. If the program continues for four years, it will save the city $500,000, Bloomberg noted.
The program is part of the city's effort to reduce the number of government cars on the streets. Last year, Bloomberg asked all city agencies to cut their non-emergency passenger fleets by 10 percent.
If the DOT car-share pilot succeeds, Bloomberg said he hopes to expand it to other agencies.