Would you rent your car to a stranger?
Seriously, would you? Because some people might, or at least that’s the thinking of at least two U.S. startups that are driving a new twist on carsharing. Back in February I mentioned a Baltimore company called RelayRides in a larger feature about carsharing, and just today I read at Earth2Tech about another company, this one out of California, called Spride Share. Both companies are pursuing the concept of distributed carsharing, which is when you, me or anyone with a car can make your vehicle available to neighbourhood strangers (or friends, I guess) who need a ride for an hour or few. The idea is to eliminate the need for a middleman — that is, a central fleet owner and maintainer like a Zipcar. RelayRides and Spride Share will instead focus on designing easy-to-use Web sites that allow individuals to sign up their cars or sign out other cars.
A good comparison is the early days of music-sharing, when Napster was big. It had a central depository that people uploaded to and downloaded from. That created some overhead for the company, complexity and ultimately it’s what allowed the law to crack down on what Napster was doing. But then Morpheus and Kazaa came along, allowing for music sharing between individual computers connected by the same software. It was much more efficient and inexpensive to run. This is what RelayRides and Spride Share are doing. It’s all about handling logistics and enabling individuals to connect through the Web, and of course coming up with a way to facilitate payment to the car owner and take a cut for yourself.
There are other potential roadblocks as well. Insurance, for one — I mean, your car insurance company likely won’t like the idea of you letting dozens of people you don’t know drive your car. This means a Spride Share or RelayRides will have to swing some sort of deal with an insurance company that covers the vehicles when they’re rented out. Another potential problem is safety — how do you know the car is safe and well maintained? Who’s responsible in the event of an accident? The quality of the vehicles being rented out — i.e. are they clean, fuel-efficient, etc… — could also complicate things, though it appears that this will be accomplished by a social policing model that lets users of the system rate cars and clients as time goes on.
If these can be overcome, I think it’s a potentially great model. Let’s face it, some of us own cars that sit in the driveway all day, or on weekends. Might as well make a few bucks from that investment and offset — or more than offset — your own fuel, insurance and maintenance costs for the year.
But to come back to my original question: Would you rent your car out to a stranger? Curious to get your thoughts.