You can't turn a corner in San Francisco without seeing a Zipcar or City CarShare vehicle puttering around. Locals are clearly comfortable with the idea of renting cars by the hour from trusted third-party companies. But what about renting vehicles from neighbors? A number of startups, including RelayRides, Spride, and Getaround, are trying to make it work in the city (California recently passed a bill that allows people to participate in peer-to-peer carsharing without violating their insurance policies). And Getaround, which just launched this year, is growing rapidly.
The company's founders were part of the first Singularity University class, where they were challenged to come up with an idea that could impact one billion people in 10 years. Their idea was to make use of some of the 250 million cars in the U.S. that sit idle for 22 hours each day.
The process is easy: Renters sign up for an available slot (there is no sign-up fee) and access the vehicle at a designated location using the Getaround iPhone app. Car owners decide how much they want to charge ($6 an hour, for example), and Getaround takes a 40% cut of each transaction. Yelp-like ratings are available on each vehicle page so that renters know what they're getting into. (A sample rating: "Kari's car was great! It was fun to drive and was reliable. I will definitely be renting this car again if I plan a trip to Tahoe soon. Rent it now!")
The vehicles cost much less to rent on average than from services like Zipcar, which now charges approximately $10 per hour for many cars in the Bay Area. And according to cofounder Jessica Scorpio, Getaround is much more user-friendly for vehicle owners than competitors. "The big differentiator is that we give owners total control. They decide how much they want to charge, who they want to share with, and when they want to share. Other companies basically have you donate your car into their fleet. We feel that benefits the renters, but not the owners."
RelayRides and Getaround both have insurance policies that cover damages for up to $1 million when vehicles are being used by renters. Getaround's custom insurance policy comes from Berkshire Hathaway. Owners are responsible for general maintenance of their vehicles, but Getaround offers 24-hour roadside assistance in case of emergency.
So far, the company seems to have found plenty of willing car owners to get involved in the service--a quick search yielded 69 vehicles within three and half miles of my house.
Getaround recently expanded to San Diego, and the startup has ambitions to grow elsewhere in the country as well. "Whoever gets the most signups is where we'll go next," says Scorpio. The idea may still sound a bit far-fetched--will people really trust their vehicles with strangers en masse?--but then again, Airbnb seemed just as unlikely when it began, and now people are comfortable with letting total strangers stay in their empty houses. Well, most of the time, anyway.
[Images: Top, Flickr user Bohman; Bottom; Getaround]