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Peer to peer car sharing coming to Portland


Car sharing 2.0 series, part VI

If you own a car, it’s likely one of the biggest purchases you made. And yet for something that we spend so much money on, we don’t actually use it all that often.

Most of the time (92% according to car sharing proponents), it sits parked, doing nothing but depreciating.

Instead of just sitting there, what if your car could be providing you income when you’re not using it?

That’s the proposition of a new breed of car sharing companies known as “peer to peer car sharing.” Car owners put their cars up for rent when not in use. Peer to peer car sharing companies act as matchmaker and broker, providing the web site to find a car and executing the rental transaction between borrower and owner.

Proponents see it not only as a financial boon to car owners (peer to peer startup Getaround states that participating car owners monthly earn $300-$400 on average), but to budget and environmentally minded folks who would rather not spend a trunkload of cash on an automobile.

Interested? Getaround announced yesterday that is partnering with the Federal Highway Administration, Oregon Transportation Research and Education Consortium and the Portland Bureau of Transportation to launch peer-to-peer car sharing in Portland early next year.

Aside from who owns the cars, peer to peer car sharing is both similar and different from car sharing v1.0 companies like Zipcar. Thanks to the Oregon Legislature, beginning on January 1, 2012, rental fees will include insurance (provided by Getaround through Berkshire Hathaway) without affecting the car owners’ private car insurance.

Peer to peer rental fees vary more widely and are set by the car owner (anywhere from $3 to as high as $75/hour). Unlike v1.0 car sharing, gas is not included in the rental fee. Borrowers are expected to replace the gas that they’ve used.

Getaround's Portland launch could benefit metro residents outside of the city core who don't have a Zipcar nearby. V1.0 car sharing companies usually place their cars in moderate to high density areas where usage levels justify the purchase and placement of the one of the company’s fleet. Since P2P companies do not have to invest in a fleet of cars, they can operate just about anywhere.

Zipcar members have a membership card to unlock the cars. Getaround has both low and high tech ways for borrowers to get in and go. At this point, most rentals occur through a face-to-face key exchanges between owner and renter. This allows an owner to personally hand over their keys to the renter only after they’ve met them and verified their driver’s license.

While less convenient than reserving and hopping in at a moment's notice, Getaround notes that these human exchanges have had a secondary benefit. “Several members have told us that the best thing about renting out their car through Getaround is not the extra money they're earning, but the way Getaround allows them to meet and help out neighbors and colleagues," says Getaround’s Steve Gutmann.  

Getaround is also rolling out a Getaround Carkit that is installed in owners vehicle that allows rentals similar to Zipcar (i.e., without pre-arranged meetings). A recent article wondered if these kits were an open invitation to thieves who could pop online and see a map of cars with keys inside. Getaround refutes this safety concern. According to Gutmann, Carkit's settings can be configured to make it impossible to start a car without a reservation.

Owned by regular Jane and Joes, Getaround’s cars are less likely to be as pristine as Zipcar’s fleet. Rent a car that smells like wet dog? Users can rate their experience to warn others. Similarly, car owners rate the borrowers – motivating users to refill the tank and not leave empty coffee cups behind.

Getaround will launch at Portland State University in January 2011 and expand to citywide in February.

Getaround was founded in 2009 as the class project of a group of students at Singularity University (a small university supported by tech giants Cisco and Google) in the San Francisco Bay Area. The concept rose out of the challenge to impact a billion people over the next 10 years.

As one would expect from a company born out of the Silicon Valley milieu, Getaround has an iPhone app that Gutmann crows is “amazing.” Users can search, reserve and open Carkit-enabled Getaround vehicles from their iPhone. Soon, car owners can use their iPhones to upload their entire vehicle profile.

Key exchange photo courtesy of Discovery News

Read more in the Car Sharing 2.0 series 

Part I: Paris launches world's first electric car sharing program

Part II: A brief history of car sharing

Part III: The benefits of car sharing

Part IV: Car2Go provides one-way car sharing service to Austin, San Diego

Part V: Nationwide (and across the pond), Zipcar continues to innovate



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