Mi Coche, Su Coche? A New Kind of Car-Sharing Seeks Traction


Forget about a cup of sugar, your neighbor might just be eyeing your ride, instead. And thanks to a crop of car-sharing services that put a twist on the Zipcar model, you may soon be able to pimp out your Plymouth.

RelayRides, a Boston-based startup, announced this week that it is expanding its car-sharing service to San Francisco. It’s doing so backed by Google and August Capital, which have invested (undisclosed funds) in the company.

The company connects those who have cars with those who need cars and it makes money by taking care of all the sticky business, such as insurance and access to the cars.

Car owners can name their hourly price (but should set it low enough to compete with other car-sharing services such as Zipcar) and determine the days and times during which they’ll make the cars available to renters. RelayRides gives the owner 65 percent of the total rental fee, and it keeps a 15 percent cut. The rest is spent on insurance. RelayRides maintains a $1 million policy that covers renters, but they must agree to be liable for the $500 deductible. The owners must maintain their own policies.

Once an owner joins the program, his or her car is outfitted with a GPS receiver and RFID reader that controls the door and ignition locks. These are housed in a module that is linked through GPRS and SMS to the RelayRides database. This allows RelayRides to know where the cars in its fleet are and it allows the company to transmit a message to the RFID reader that tells it when the car will next be used, and by which member.

The renter makes an online request to rent a nearby car and RelayRides sends an SMS to his phone, indicating where the car is parked (sometimes that’s the owner’s driveway). Once the renter finds the car, he holds his RFID-powered ID card (this is either a card issued by Relay Rides, or the Clipper Card, used in SF transit systems, or the Charlie Card, used in Boston’s transit system) up to the reader mounted near the windshield. The reader checks the card’s ID against the rental plan and if it all checks out, the door and the ignition are unlocked. (The system isn’t set up to work with the Clipper Card just yet, but will be soon, says RelayRides CEO Shelby Clark).

It’s a win-win, at least on the surface. But with RelayRides, as with other similar services that we’ve covered, including DriveMyCar and Spride, time will tell how well such a set-up plays out.

What’s your take? If you own a car, would you pimp it out to a service like RelayRides?

Freelance writer Mary Catherine O'Connor finds that a growing number of companies are proving the ways that they can make good financially, socially and environmentally (as the triple bottom line theory suggests).With that in mind, she contributes to Triple Pundit, as well as to Earth2Tech and other pubs focused on sustainability. She also writes The Good Route, an Outside Magazine blog that addresses the intersection of sustainability and the active/outdoor life.To find out more, or to reach her, go to www.mcoconnor.com.

One response

  1. Interesting. We have just started the first P2P Carsharing company in Germany in November (www.tamyca.de) and thought about in-car appliances for long time. However, we decided not to do so. It is an expensive hassle and renders the car owner fairly professional (which he is, in most cases, not). Let’s see how it plays out long-term ;-)

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