The sharing economy may be growing, but up until now, peer-to-peer carsharing (where people rent out their idling vehicles by the hour to other people) has been relegated to certain forward-thinking cities. That’s no longer the case now that RelayRides, the oldest of the carsharing startups, is expanding nationwide.
"There’s more momentum around carsharing in dense urban areas. There are typical hallmarks of cities that do well. They’re relatively dense and well-served by public transit, meaning it’s easy to live without a car," says RelayRides founder and chief community officer Shelby Clark. That includes cities like Boston and San Francisco, the only two locales where RelayRides was available up until today’s announcement. It also includes Portland, Oregon--the newest launch city for RelayRides competitor Getaround.
But Clark believes that even suburbanites and rural dwellers could be well-served by peer-to-peer carsharing, which could replace a second or even third car in places where public transportation is nearly nonexistent.
Traditional carsharing services--like Zipcar, which allows members to rent vehicles by the hour directly from the company--can’t really expand outside of dense urban areas because of the high overhead costs. "We’re excited to see how things work outside traditional areas," says Clark.
At the ripe old age of two, RelayRides is the oldest peer-to-peer carsharing service in the U.S. But plenty of competitors have sprung up since then, including the aforementioned Getaround, which currently operates in the San Francisco Bay Area; Portland, Oregon; and Austin, Texas. Zipcar recently announced that’s a funding partner for Wheelz, a campus carsharing company operating in California.
All of the companies offer insurance policies to protect car owners from damage, but RelayRides has at least one advantage compared to its competitors (besides its countrywide reach): a partnership with GM. All Chevrolet, Buick, GMC, and Cadillac vehicles rented out by the service can be unlocked via cell phone instead of with a key exchange or special device. Most Getaround cars use the key exchange method, while all RelayRides cars have in-vehicle technology that allows them to be unlocked by borrowers (the company also just introduced a key exchange system to make its countrywide debut smoother).
RelayRides may now be the only peer-to-peer carsharing option for many parts of the country, but don’t be surprised if that quickly changes. After all, peer-to-peer carsharing didn’t even exist three years ago.