Recently in Not Your Father’s Carpool Part 1, CEC reported on new findings by U.S. Pirg indicating that young people are buying fewer new cars and driving less – demanding a new American Dream that is less dependent on the one-car-per-person model.
Coupled with this is another trend: the rapid development of social media and mobile technology that make it easier for people to connect directly with someone who has something they need.
“I keep hearing people say we need to keep the economy going,” says Eric Lohela, a City of Santa Barbara employee and CEC Partnership Council co-chair. “For me one way to do that is to pay for the things you need when you need them. I don’t think buying millions of cars that sit around depreciating is a good investment. I don’t think that making GM profitable is the next economy. Our next economy needs financial flexibility, where money keeps moving. It’s about services more than about products.”
Eric – who lives downtown within walking and biking distance of most of the places he frequents – found he was putting less than 100 miles a month on his 2007 Toyota Prius, but was reluctant to sell it. He wanted to see his car – the largest investment of capital that many people will make outside of a home purchase – do something in its down time. He tried various informal car-sharing arrangements with friends, and then began officially renting his car through a new peer-to-peer car rental service, Relay Rides.
Relay Rides – like an Airbnb service for cars – allows owners to rent directly to interested drivers who pass the company’s background check. “I like Relay Rides because it gives exceptional control to the owner of the car,” Eric says. “I set the rate, I set the mileage allowance. I indicate when the car is or is not available, and I can change that at any time. When someone requests to rent from me, I see their driver’s license, get their cell phone number, and can even see if we have any mutual friends on Facebook. I can meet them and give them the keys directly, or if they’re a repeat renter and I trust them, I can keep it simple and use a lock box.”
Relay Rides also provides $1 million insurance coverage on each rental, and handles the payment process between owner and renter, taking a 25 percent cut for providing the service. Eric has earned close to $1,000 by renting his Prius, and has “met a bunch of people I wouldn’t have otherwise met,” including a guy who commutes entirely by bike and doesn’t own a car, another guy who has a scooter but occasionally needs to go to LA., and a woman whose car was in an accident and who wanted to drive a Prius while she considered her next purchase.
Perhaps not surprisingly, car-sharing first gained popularity on college campuses, where an innovative spirit is coupled with need – such as parking shortages, or the cost of owning a car on a student budget.
“Campuses are on the bleeding edge of the early adoption of technology,” said Jamey Wagner, Program Manager of the Transportation Alternatives Program at UCSB. “They are like little cities. At UCSB we have approximately 4,500 faculty and staff and another 20,000 students — that’s a large pool of potential drivers, day and night. And most of them are tech savvy.”
UCSB was the first campus in the UC system to put in place a car-sharing program, which over the last decade has matured into a small fleet of rent-by-the-hour cars now serviced by Zipcar. Unlike Relay Rides, which arranges a peer-to-peer car rental, Zipcar provides short-term rental services from a fleet of company cars.
“This helps those who can’t afford a car or don’t want to bring one on campus. For $7.50 an hour, you can go to a doctor’s appointment, help a friend move, even make a late night food run,” said Wagner.
He notes that Zipcar lowered the minimum rental age from 24 to 18 years old, which may help Zipcar’s automaker partners build brand loyalty among future car owners. This may be a necessity, as recent reports show that the percentage of new cars purchased by people age 21 to 34 is dropping – from 38 percent of all new cars in 1985, to 27 percent in 2010, the Atlantic reported. In fact, another survey indicates that 30 percent of people ages 18 to 34 say they would rather give up a car than give up their mobile phone or laptop.
Having easy access to a rental car helped Arjun Sarkar, Alternative Fuels Coordinator at UCSB, in his goal to avoid adding a car when his two teen boys came of driving age. “We did a total role reversal, and one of the family cars became the primary car for my son. I became a multi-modal commuter, getting to my job on campus by bus or carpool, and then using the campus Zipcar once or twice a week when I needed to leave during the day.”
“The first two or three weeks were the hardest, in terms of letting go of having my car at my disposal all the time. It got easier as I got familiar with the system, often booking from Zipcar the day or sometimes the hour I needed it. I realized I could get a car really quickly if I had an emergency.”