In November of 2006, I described what I regard as one of the most ingenious transportation solutions around, and a money-making, entrepreneurial one at that.
The idea is to create a market for car-sharing of private vehicles. (I called it “pimping your ride” or “ride hopping.”) Imagine if you could plug your car into the Zipcar network during hours when you don’t need it. The potential benefits of this innovation are gargantuan: trimming emissions, saving money, saving lives, boosting the economy and more. If you didn’t read my post then, please read it now. Or read it again. It’s as important and true as ever. The rest of this post is a good-news update.
- At least three start-up companies are entering the ride-hopping market: Spride in California, Relay Rides in Boston, and Whip Car in London. Each has a slightly different approach, but all are serious, well-funded ventures with impressive offerings. (Read up in The Economist and this California green-tech blog.)
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- The explosion of social networking online since my 2006 post has influenced these companies’ strategies. They allow car owners to select who can use their wheels. The convergence is intriguing: the founder of LinkedIn is an advisor to Spride. And the companies are racing to figure out how to let members rent their cars only to, for example, their LinkedIn connections or Facebook friends. This approach erodes the social trust barrier I pointed out in Pimp Your Ride.
- On June 9, 2010, the California Assembly unanimously approved a bill to eliminate one of the largest obstacles to ride hopping: insurance rules. At present, if you rent out your private car, you might invalidate your insurance. The California bill, if approved by the state senate and signed by the governor, would allow car owners to rent their personal cars through a car-sharing service without risking their insurance coverage. News reports suggest the bill has excellent chances of becoming law in the next two months. (Find good coverage on StreetsBlog and in the New York Times.) A few months after it passes, Spride and the venerable City CarShare of San Francisco will launch a pilot version of ride hopping in the Bay Area. About one year later, Spride plans to go statewide.
All the companies’ ambitions are as grand as my own hopes for this idea: they aim to transform relationships with the automobile, change personal transport decisions, and create a new marketplace. Spride founder Sunil Paul, for example, says, “Our overall vision is to replace private automobiles with private cell phones.” He means that you won’t need your own car, because your phone will give you access to dozens of nearby cars at any given time. That result, in the words of my earlier post, would flip transportation from a market that operates “by the car” to one that operates “by the trip.” Such a market leads to massive reductions of driving—that was the main lesson of my Year of Living Car-lessly.
In Cascadia, the key questions, are: what laws and regulations are blocking private car-sharing? How quickly can Salem, Olympia, and Victoria follow Sacramento’s lead and remove insurance barriers? Will Olympia exempt private car-sharing from the heinous and retrograde 9.7 percent state rental car tax (I’m looking your way, Ross Hunter and Margarita Prentice)? Have our insurance commissioners and regulators been tracking these developments? Are they ready to cooperate with private car-sharing companies and pilot projects? Do we have entrepreneurs ready to enter this market? Are our venture capitalists looking for our own car-sharing start ups to fund?
Ride hopping has made great, well, hops since late 2006. What makes me so optimistic about it is that, with local support, I believe it can not only gain hold in Cascadia. I believe it can spread far faster than fleet-based car sharing as operated by Zipcar and other companies. (Speaking of which, when will Zipcar get into ride hopping?) Once it gets started, it can spread like, well, a hot new social networking application: Facebook, on four wheels.