Sharing Cars With the Neighbors for Profit

Getaround at Thursday's Community Market.  This one costs $50 an hour for a minimum of two hours.

Getaround at Thursday's Community Market. This one costs $50 an hour for a minimum of two hours.

When 27-year-old Emmanuel Zamora found a green flyer tucked under his windshield wiper from Getaround.com in early January, he signed up immediately. The flyer promised car owners they could earn extra cash by loaning out their vehicle to strangers.

For a graduate student whose only source of income is student loans, this was like money falling from the sky. But Zamora’s car sat idle for a month.

“It took me awhile to get comfortable with the idea,” said Zamora, who has resided in the Mission for the last year and is studying to be a psychologist.

Now, Zamora’s 2009 black Toyota Prius is one of 26 privately-owned vehicles conveniently parked at a block near you in the Mission District. The cars are available for any neighbor who needs to zip across town for a quick errand or rent it out for an entire day.

“My parents are like, do you really need to do this,” said Zamora, who has discovered cash, new friends and a sense of sharing.

From one block to the next, the Mission District is quietly becoming a marketplace of people willing to lend out their cars to complete strangers who happen to live in the same zip code. In just six months, the neighborhood has attracted two car-sharing startups that have found the Mission’s socio-geographical layout conducive to this transaction of goods.

The Mission is not only compact and lined with cars, residents here are familiar with the concept of collaborative consumption and the idea that having access to a car is far better than owning one.

“You have to have the car and need the car and be open-minded,” said Jessica Scorpio, co-founder of Getaround.com, the first peer-to-peer car-sharing online service to venture into the Mission. “Everyone in the Mission gets it.”

That, and it’s profitable. Zamora said he rents his car out six to seven times a month, charging $7.25 an hour or $45 for an entire day. He earns between $200-$300 — enough to cover his monthly car payment.

“We want to create a shift in how people see and use their cars,” said Scorpio.

Since January, Getaround, based in San Francisco, has signed up 100 car borrowers and enrolled 20 cars from the Mission District, which represents 30 percent of the vehicles they have in circulation throughout the city.

RelayRides.com, another neighbor-to-neighbor car-sharing outfit that began in Boston, Massachusetts, and is now headquartered in San Francisco, has enrolled a total of 40 cars. It first launched its services in Noe Valley, where it currently has 10 cars. In late February it expanded to the Mission, signing up six cars.

“People who live in the city understand that a car is an asset,” said Jonah Bliss, marketing manager for RelayRides.

Bliss said that targeting car owners in the Mission was a natural move because of the area’s density and interesting mix of people. The new businesses have found that owners here are mostly young professionals between the ages of 18 and 35. Scorpio said some of their owners have been older, often with a son or daughter who is off to college and left a spare car behind. Borrowers are very much the same; they’re into green, into sharing and into being hyperlocal.

“They see this as a way of making extra money, and they also understand that they’re giving money back to the neighborhood and reducing cars on the road,” said Bliss.

Zamora, for example, said that while the extra paycheck originally motivated him to loan his car, it also feels good to share something he uses only for occasional trips to Napa to visit his parents. The rest of the time he gets around on his bike or by taking Muni and BART.

Another draw is the smartphone capabilities that these online networks make available to such a tech-savvy neighborhood. Both Getaround and RelayRides install a device in each car that allows renters access to a car via their iPhone. They don’t charge any application or signup fees, and owners get to decide their car’s availability and set the rates.

But there are some differences between the two companies.

Getaround owners can choose who they lend their cars to and must approve each rental request. Borrowers sort through vehicles in the neighborhood on the website, then await approval and pickup instructions by email or through Getaround’s iPhone app. If a car isn’t set up with a device, the owner and renter meet in person to exchange keys. Borrowers can rent a car for as low as $3 an hour or $15 per day. That compares to Zip Car’s average of $80 a day to rent a car.

Getaround takes 30 percent of the rental cost, half of which goes to cover its insurance policy, providing the owner and driver with full coverage. The owner gets 70 percent. Getaround recently signed with the National Auto Club to offer users 24-hour roadside assistance.

RelayRides members automatically have a device installed in their car that allows borrowers to access it with a key card. Borrowers can make reservations online or over the phone. RelayRides takes a 35 percent cut — 20 percent goes to insurance, the rest to the company — while the owner gets 65 percent. Borrowers can rent cars for as low as $5 an hour, depending on the model and year of the car.

Overall, Scorpio and Bliss said, the transactions have run smoothly. Their members are humbled by the fact that a neighbor is lending them their car and generally take good care of a vehicle. Their biggest problem so far has been a few borrowers returning a car late.

This happened to Zamora recently. He lent his Prius to a young woman who didn’t return it on time, and kept sending Zamora vague text messages saying she was rushing to the city from Oakland. When she didn’t arrive, Zamora contacted a representative at Getaround. Thanks to a tracking device the company installs in each car, a representative was able to locate Zamora’s. The borrower was in the city at a hotel, fighting with her boyfriend.

“They were really responsive,” said Zamora, who was impressed that one of the company’s members actually showed up at the hotel to ensure the car was OK. Getaround ultimately removed the borrower from the system.

Zamora said another upside has been meeting neighbors he didn’t know just six months ago.

“This totally lends itself to the phenomenon that the Mission embraces,” said Zamora.

4 Comments

  1. Sameer Bansaki

    I don’t think it’s possible for the Getaround guys to irritate the community any more than they have. Every streetpole in the Mission has their signs. They pass out little flyers at the top of the BART stations, which are then litter all the way down the escalators. Seriously — there’s a fine line between “grassroots marketing” and “repetitive, in-your-face marketing clutter”. But, of course, they’re hipsters doing a “community service”, so it’s all OK.

  2. Jeremiah S.

    It is the sign of the times! I thought only zip cars does carsharing but to make $$$ yourself…?! I started looking up other “peer-to-peer carsharing” and found another company “JustShareIt” that also rents out boats, ATVs, etc.. Maybe I should look into it though I am a paranoid bugger.

  3. Jason Jacobs

    This article reads like one big advert… Did you guys get paid to write it?

  4. Is there one in Berkeley? I’d lov to do this.

Comments are closed.