For the last couple of years, I’ve been a Zipcar member – and quite happily so.
Sure, if I had all the money in the world and could justify paying an exorbitant amount of moola each month to rent a space for a car I seldom use, I might be tempted.
Alas – at least for me and my loved ones - some penniless convenience store clerk from Missouri won the Powerball, so at least for the foreseeable future, I will remain a Zipcar girl. (For those unfamiliar with Zipcar, the short hand is it’s a car you rent by the hour – and it’s all done online and with a smartcard and transponder, so you don’t have to go to Avis and stand in line waiting for the one and only clerk to process the out-of-town, need-directions-to the-Cape-monopolizing-the- only-clerk’s-time customers who got there a split second before you arrived.)
So far, with a couple of quite minor glitches, Zipcar has worked out perfectly for me. No more following the street sweeper around on cleaning day, hoping to nab a spot I can stay in for 2 weeks. No more shoveling out a space, only to come home and find that every free spot had been occupied by an SUV that jockeyed its way out of the spot without having to shovel, leaving a frozen, rutted, impossible to park in mess for me.
Just go on line. Pick out your car. Pick up your car. And go.
Thanks, Zipcar! So much easier and cheaper than renting a car for short, couple of hours trips.
Now there’s a new, variation-on-a-Zipcar theme trying to make its way: RelayRides, with P2P (clever, that) car sharing. I.e., if you have a car you’re willing to rent out to perfect strangers, you can register it with RelayRides, which provides the peer-to-peer forum; vets and outfits the cars; covers the insurance; does the AAA thing if you breakdown; etc. Lots of overlap with the Zipcar model.
Now, I can understand a car owner wanting to make a few bucks off of an unused car. Sort of.
But if I had a car sitting idle – and, if I did have a car, I can guarantee it would be sitting idle about 99.99% of the time – and was considering RelayRides, here’s what I’d be worrying about:
- The general ick factor of having someone I don’t know going god knows where to do god knows what in my car.
- The fact that, while I’m making money, my car’s getting some wear and tear, and depreciation, on it that I’m not putting there.
- Whether the person using this car knows how to drive a manual, or is this jackass – see, I’m already anticipating ‘jackass’ – burning my clutch out trying to learn. I’ve done enough clutch damage getting in and out of miniscule urban parking spaces to trust my car to a complete strangers.
- And speaking of getting in and out of miniscule urban parking spaces, does the relay renter know how to parallel park?
- Which won’t matter half the time, anyway, since in all likelihood, there’ll be no parking space for him to parallel park in to begin with. And what then? ‘Hey, I had to leave your car in a $20/hour parking lot. Sor-ry.’
- Not to mention that you might be completely and utterly PO’d if someone totaled your car. (I didn’t read the FAQ all that closely: is it book value or replacement value if someone wrecks your beloved.)
So, as I see it, this model pretty much precludes us urban types who have cars with manual transmissions and/or those without their own parking spaces. And has a few other not so appealing aspects to it. That’s from one former car owner’s perspective.
From the renter’s perspective, what does RelayRides give me that Zipcar doesn’t? (I’m assuming it’s more or less a wash with Zipcar in terms of costs. At a quick glance, RR seems a bit lower if you drive less than 20 miles, after which point you’ll reach a net-net with Zip, after which it gets pricier.) Plus, if I get in an accident with my Zipcar, it’s on some combo of the company and me (haven’t read the fine print here: I’m sure there’s more “on me” in there than I’d like to believe). If I crash and burn a RelayRide, well, in addition to its being on the company and me (haven’t read the fine print here), my neighbor may be giving me the fisheye or glare-stare in perpetuity.
Anyway, to compare and contrast, if you’re in a dense urban location with 20 cars chasing every available parking space, Zipcar gets the clear nod, as you’ll always have a place to return the car.
And, in the here and now, since Zipcar has already built up its business, if you’re in Zipcar-ville, you can pretty much always find a car nearby. (At least in my humble experience.)
But if you’re not in an area chocked full of Zipcars– as I am – this may not be a bad idea.
It seems more of a natural for exurban areas (inner ring suburbs). The ones where there’s okay public transportation, where people aren’t as my-car-is-my-life-ish as they are in suburb-suburbs – you know, the ones without sidewalks and where SUV’s are mandated by local ordinance - and where you may be able to mostly get along without a car, or with being a one-car family. But which may not be an interesting area for Zipcar in terms of critical mass.
Then again, if there’s not critical mass, how’s this going to work for RelayRides?
If I’m in Medford, and have to walk 3 miles to Somerville to pick up my ride, well…
The ReadyRides concepts strikes me as a bit like, well, Zipcar has been a success, but the idea’s taken, so let’s see whether a quasi-knock off has legs. But, as my business career has proven time and again, I’m no ‘idea man’. So this concept may take off. Folks from the B-School are involved with it, so presumably there’s some sort of business plan behind it, the market’s been sussed out, etc.
And, after all, people rent out their summer houses all the time, and having some stranger use your toilet and sleep in your bed is arguably more intimate and personally encroaching than someone heading to Home Depot in your car to buy a gallon a paint and a Black & Decker drill. (In fact, next week, we’ll be staying in a VRBO (Vacation Rental By Owner) flat in Paris that my husband found online. It is not, however, the owner’s place of residence; it’s his side business.)
But I don’t see the model as being as sure-fire as Zipcar’s is. (Or, at least, as sure-fire as Zipcar has proven to be.)
Like Zipcar, RelayRides is a local outfit. So I wish them luck – as long as (for a couple of reasons), it’s not at the expense of Zipcar, which is working out for me just fine.
I also wish them luck because a member of their management team is named Ethelbert – which, in a world of bland and boring names, absolutely sets them apart.
P.S. From a marketing perspective, I love their tag line: Reinventing the wheels. But when I read through this post, I found that I had called them ‘ReadyRides’ several times. (Too bad that URL is taken. Nothing much there yet, but “coming soon.” It would have been nice if RelayRides could have grabbed it and done a redirect.)
And just to give credit to my ur source, I first heard of RelayRides in the current Economist.