Peer-to-peer car sharing gaining popularity in SF

March 31, 2011 8:04:24 PM PDT
Companies that rent cars in your neighborhood when you need them have been around for several years now. But what if you could rent your next door neighbor's car for a run to the store, or a trip out of town? That's the idea behind the next generation of car sharing websites that have started up in the Bay Area.

San Francisco resident Ryan Morehouse is new to San Francisco. He needed a car for a couple of hours to get around so he turned to RelayRides, one of a handful of peer-to-peer auto sharing companies popping up in the Bay Area.

"So for the few times that I need to go to the grocery store or take a trip I can just grab a car and go," Morehouse said.

The concept is simple, those in need of a car book online to reserve one in their neighborhood and car owners like Caterina Rindi puts hers up for rent.

"I use it a couple days a week; I thought this was a great way to make a little extra money off my car and use resources that are already exist and not being fully utilized," Rindi said.

Rindi and Morehouse use RelayRides, which bills itself as the first peer-to-peer car sharing site in the nation. They started in Boston before moving to San Francisco. In Massachusetts, there are 50 participants renting out vehicles to 1,000 borrowers.

"So far the average car owner has made about $250 a month in their pocket, but we've seen those numbers go up to $600-$1,000 a month," RelayRides spokesperson Shelby Clark said.

Relayrides is not alone in this market. Similar companies like Spride and Getaround do the same thing.

"Basically with car sharing it's been taking off for the past 10 years; ZipCar has really lead the way for that but it's really quite limited to geography so if you go a peer-to-peer way you can make a lot more cars available," Getaround founder Jessica Scorpio said.

These startups are taking advantage of a change in California law this year that allows people to rent each other's cars for a few hours or a few days.

"We see cars for as little as $3 an hour up to $15 an hour on average you can get a car for about $6 or $7 an hour," Scorpio said.

Owners are no longer on the hook for car damage or accidents; the rental companies pick up that insurance coverage.

"What California did was that it said that using your car for personal car sharing like RelayRides it has no affect on your existing insurance policy," Clark said.

These peer-to-peer auto rental companies use technology to unlock the cars. Both companies can install devices that enable a car to be unlocked or started remotely. If the owner prefers they can meet the renter to hand off the key and are never obligated to go through with a transaction if they do not feel comfortable.

The owners' fees are limited, but they do pick up the tab on gas with RelayRides. Getaround users bring the car back with the same amount as they left with. The companies take a small percentage of the rental fee for facilitating the service and covering insurance costs.

"I just signed up less than a week ago and I have two people rent it already just like hour trips around the city," car owner Ali Fenn said.

Written and produced by Ken Miguel


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