Transportation in the Bay Area is always a challenge: many options exist, and none are quite good enough. One snag on BART and commuting to and from the East Bay makes for a long day. CalTrain riders share a similar story if they live in Silicon Valley. Commuters have often replied to the systems’ limitations by taking casual carpool to work, which drove local transportation officials crazy—after all, casual carpooling implied public transport’s failure in the region.
Then you have the issue of moving around within a city, especially San Francisco. MUNI rail is adequate if you work in the financial district. Taxis are a possibility, but not always easy to find. And when it comes to running errands, finding that parking space after a grocery run can drive anyone mad. Now a young company has given residents in San Francisco and even outside the city another transport option: car sharing.
Spride, based in San Francisco, helps reduce personal car use by coordinating transportation services between car owners and car borrowers. The linkage is necessary: most cars sit idle 90% of the time, and car ownership is expensive. Spride’s technology platform, paired with social networks, now makes it possible for car owners to rent their car by the hour, and borrows can reserve them through a smartphone.
One huge hurdle blocking Spride’s potential was the law, but that changed last week. On September 29, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed CA Assembly Bill 1871 into law. Under AB 1871, personal vehicle sharing no longer is considered commercial use. That barrier posed car owners the risk of losing their personal auto insurance if they received money for lending out their car.
For now those interested in Spride can participate through San Francisco’s City CarShare network. The service is free for owners, and costs borrowers about $7 an hour. Fees paid by borrowers cover the cost of insurance, and penalties are assessed if they return the car late, smoke, or foul up the car. Insurance carriers have no additional exposure because Spride’s insurance takes care of any accidents or dings. To start, all the owner has to do is give up the car for several hours so that a City CarShare technician can install the hardware, during which the owner can borrow another Spride-registered car. Car owners can offset the cost of maintaining their prized wheels, while borrowers are spared the headache.
Most likely personal car sharing services like Spride or the UK’s WhipCar will complement, rather than compete with, short term rental services like Zip Car. Whether it is concern over reducing one’s footprint, economic necessity, or eliminating one hassle out of a harried routine, Spride should succeed. Whether the company is interested in entering foreign markets like Los Angeles, where car sharing is a foreign concept, remains to be seen. We could sure use it!