May 10, 2010

Car-sharing on steroids?

Recent posts by Robin Chase at Network Musings and Dave at Carsharing.US caught my attention for their expansive vision of car-sharing and its reach.

Robin has a broad vision on sharing. It is a theme explored throughout her blog. In a recent post on innovation in transport policy, one of her key suggestions is to:
Allow owners of private vehicles to accept money in exchange for renting out their own vehicle, driving other people in it, or accepting money from people ride-sharing. We need to recognize that sharing cars and maximizing the number of people using each vehicle and getting mobility satisfaction out of each car is vastly preferred over the current single owner status quo.

Dave at Carsharing.US shows that part of Robin's agenda is already happening - under the name 'Peer-to-peer carsharing and car rental'.

His whole post is worth reading but here are a few excerpts:
What is peer to peer carsharing? It's traditional carsharing using privately owned vehicles temporarily made available to a carsharing company for others to drive. Like traditional carsharing the vehicles are decentralized, they're available by the hour, and they include gas and insurance in the rates (ideally full insurance coverage, not state minimum coverage).

Dave tackles the question of why should we care?

Well, it's certainly a good deal for car owners, who can easily make several thousand dollars a year from their car ("Don't work for your car, make your car work for you," as Spride says.) Need I say more?
...
For the carsharing company it transforms a major expense (leasing or owning the fleet) into a variable cost that they only pay when the car is actually making money. And, the lower cost structure means that carsharing can be feasible in less dense, more suburban locations
...
A side benefit of p2p is that, in the same way that using carsharing instead of owning a car (or 2) can be a transition to car-lite lifestyle, renting a car out to others may also serve as a transition to a car-lite lifestyle for vehicle owners.

Dave suggests this might be a big deal. I hope so too.

It looks like another step towards eroding the boundary between having a car and not having one. Softening this boundary has interested me for some time. As Chris Bradshaw says, cars are a "feast or famine" proposition in most cities. Either you have one (which tempts you to use it a lot while still typically leaving it parked for about 23 hours per day) or you don't (which usually means very restricted access to car use).

By the way, I first came across the idea of peer-to-peer carsharing (but not that name) in this chapter, so it is not a brand new idea: Monheim, R. (2003). Visions for city traffic and mobility, in Tolley, R. (ed.) Sustainable Transport: Planning for walking and cycling in urban environments. Woodhead Publishing, Cambridge, 84-96.

Dave also tackles the question of 'Why Now?'. He suggests insurance and smartphones as possible answers:
Until now the hangup in getting peer to peer off the ground has been insurance. [...] Apparently, the economic climate has loosed up the insurance underwriters' grips on the reins at insurance companies.
[...]
Another reason may be the explosion of interest in the iPhone and smart phones in general, which I think will make finding and booking p2p vehicles much easier and more spontaneious ...

UPDATE
: Last month, the Economist had a short article on peer-to-peer carsharing, followed by a blog post which ends, "So the time seems right, finally, for p2p car rentals to take off. What do you think?"

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