Car-Share: How to Keep Cars Off the Road and Even Break Our Destructive Consumption Habits
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“Assuming an average marginal tax rate of 25 percent, this is like PhillyCarShare members getting an aggregate $18 million annual increase in their salaries. Those members are then able to spend their savings locally, thus supporting 150 jobs in the city.”
And coming soon, in partnership with the city of Philadelphia, PhillyCarShare is bringing electric cars to its fleet. According to Nawoj, the city has gotten a $140,000 grant to create electric charging stations, and the electric cars are perfectly suited to the type of driving most PhillyCarShare users do: short trips and errands around the city.
A study by the Philadelphia Parking Authority found that some 60 percent of Philly private cars don't move for at least three days straight, Nawoj said, but for drivers who just don't want to give up their private car, there's yet another option.
RelayRides, based in Boston and now in San Francisco, allows car owners to rent out their own vehicles by the hour. The owners set their own rates, starting at $6 an hour (once again, less than Zipcar) and get 65 percent of their take, with 15 percent going to RelayRides and 20 percent going to insurance. The service provides insurance (up to $1 million) and a screening process as well as the technology to track the cars' use, but it mainly serves as a way to connect people to people. It's a step in between Craigslist and a company like Zipcar.
RelayRides Founder Shelby Clarke told Wired:
“Consumers are increasingly rejecting traditional forms of ownership, preferring to borrow rather than buy,” he said. “RelayRides builds on this changing consumer behavior by enabling neighbors to support each other, both financially and practically.”
In March, RelayRides got some serious funding from Google Ventures and August Capital, and without the overhead cost of buying cars, a lot more of that $5.1 million can go into expanding, possibly to new cities.
Scott Kirsner at Boston.com reviewed his RelayRides experience before the company's official launch, and noted the problems with the private car he borrowed. And yes, unlike Zipcar or PhillyCarShare, your experience will likely vary greatly based on your neighborhood and the owner of the car you choose to borrow. If you live in a relatively pricey neighborhood, the odds of your neighbors owning newer, more expensive cars are probably higher.
And of course, the idea of lending a stranger your car might be unnerving. But with the economy providing a crunch, will the economic incentive push people over the edge? Or is Clarke right that it's a shift in consumer behavior, perhaps driven by a combination of economic necessity, environmental concerns, and the changing technology that we're becoming more and more comfortable with these days?
Without the Web, of course, it would be difficult to run most of these organizations and nearly impossible for RelayRides, which is itself a sort of social network. It doesn't provide cars, after all, just the means by which people—the “neighbor to neighbor” of its tagline—can contact one another to rent their cars out.
The Economist, not exactly known for its share-alike ethos, noted:
“Attitudes to conspicuous consumption are changing. Thorstein Veblen, who coined the term, argued that people like to display their status by owning lots of stuff. But many oftoday’s conspicuous consumers—particularly the young—achieve the same effect by virtual means. They boast about what they are doing (on Twitter), what they are reading (Shelfari), what they are interested in (Digg) and whom they know (Facebook). Collaborative consumption is an ideal signalling device for an economy based on electronic brands and ever-changing fashions.”
They use the term “collaborative consumption” for more than car-sharing; it's taken from the title of a book by Rachel Botsman and Roo Rogers, What’s Mine is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption. But in addition to noting the way social networking has shifted our status symbols, they make a more interesting point: