This weekend I participated in TransportationCamp West, an “unconference” in San Francisco that explored the intersection of urban transportation and technology. This is the first article in a series I’m writing about sessions I attended.
Car-sharing is a great option for some city-dwellers – you get the benefits of having access to a car without having to pay for parking, insurance, or maintenance. The traditional car-sharing model practiced by companies like Zipcar and City CarShare essentially utilizes the collective buying power of its members to purchase and maintain a fleet of automobiles. But what if we could utilize a small portion of the massive fleet of privately-owned vehicles that aren’t be driven at any given moment? Is there a way to harness this resource to help promote more balanced mode choices?
These are the stated goals of several startups competing in the “peer-to-peer car-sharing” space. Car owners can sign up their vehicles and rent them out to other users in their neighborhood or community. The owner sets the rental price for his or her vehicle by the hour, and after taking a small commission from the transaction the car-sharing company pays the owner.
At TransportationCamp we had a panel discussing the implications of peer-to-peer car-sharing with representatives from Spride, RelayRides, and GetAround. At the most basic level, this model relieves the company of most duties related to cleaning and maintenance and provides an income-stream for car owners while potentially expanding car-sharing to sparsely-populated neighborhoods and suburbs. It could help encourage a car owner to walk or take transit for some trips if they know their car is out earning them cash – according to GetAround founder Sam Zaid, the top-earner on his service brought home over $970 in a month. There is a direct tangible benefit tied to taking other modes for both parties: for the owner, if you are driving your car it won’t earn you any money – for the renter, if you take the train instead of renting you save money.
Traditional car-sharing services claim more than half-a-million users in the United States, mostly in urban areas and at college campuses – peer-to-peer car-sharing, on the other hand, is still in its infancy and is only available in a handful of cities. It remains to be seen if these services will gain any traction, but they have the potential to expand the idea of car-sharing as an alternative to car ownership and ultimately promote transit, cycling, and walking.