What about borrowing a car from the neighbor whose vehicle is parked nearly all the time?
If only you knew when the neighbor's car was available and has set some ground rules. That's what a few new specialized P2P (person-to-person, or peer-to-peer) car-sharing services aim to establish, while saving money for those who don't need a car and making a little extra dough for those who do happen to own an extra one.
The concept of so-called P2P consumerism isn't entirely new—the term has been applied to sharing media like music and movies for years. But the idea has recently been expanded to use our connectedness—Internet, mobile devices, and all—to match people who own a desirable thing with people who want said thing, whenever it's available. Examples include Rent The Runway for fancy clothes, or HomeAway for vacation rentals.
Relay Rides, a Bay Area startup rolling out its services beginning next month, first in Boston, is one of a growing number of "collaborative consumption" services, enabled by technology, potentially allowing both car owners and renters to be able to defray or completely avoid some of the costs of ownership.
Almost like social media, with vehicles
Basically, after owners sign up, they tell the website or mobile application when there vehicle is available; likewise, renters shop those vehicles, based on when they need one, where it is, and what they need. Relay Rides covers the renter with comprehensive insurance and makes sure that he/she has a good driving record.
The company also puts a GPS device in the car (looking something like a taxicab computer) that can unlock the vehicle, immobilize the engine, and tracks its whereabouts; if it's not returned where and when anticipated, the company will help you locate the vehicle and will automatically assess a penalty.
Since so much of Relay Rides' success rides on technology integration, the company certainly considers itself a tech firm, says director of marketing Boris Mordkovich.
Relay Rides has standardized rates based on the model year of the car and whether it fits into Economy, Full Size, or Specialty categories. Given those variables, renting a Relay Ride could cost from $6 to $12 per hour, or $48 to $96 per day, with excess miles (over 20 per hour or 160 per day) costing 40 or 50 cents per mile.
Get money for loaning out your car, without the fuss
Would it be possible to play the system and become your own single-car-rental outfit? Sure. Surprisingly, Relay Rides does pitch itself as a way to make extra cash. "We're like like a car matchmaker, bringing people who have cars, and those who need them, together," it says, and according to the company a typical car owner could earn between $1,300 annually for a compact, offered ten hours a week, to $12,000 annually for a luxury model offered 30 hours per week.
A comparable service, called WhipCar, just launched in the UK and soon hopes to expand into other cities in Britain.
Is this the next big thing for car-sharing companies, which have been expanding at an astounding rate over the past decade? So far, "It's a more advanced form of 'Hey buddy, can I borrow your car,'" said John Williams, the spokesman for Zipcar, the world's largest car-sharing company, and it won't work for everyone—especially those who need a consistent experience, with clean, well-prepared cars in the same place each time, when they need them.
To help assure some level of quality with Relay Rides, though, owners get to rate the renters, and renters get to rate the cars.