Spride Share: Using the Web for Distributed Car Sharing

As a big fan of car-sharing networks — I ditched my car last year and am a City CarShare customer — I absolutely heart this idea: Spride Share, a car-sharing network where regular car owners can rent out their vehicles to drivers, is coming out of stealth today. The startup is being led by one of the earliest greentech investors out there: Sunil Paul, who founded early-stage investment firm Spring Ventures and was an early investor in Nanosolar (here’s a Q&A I ran with Paul when I launched Earth2Tech three years ago).

The company also has an advisory board that a who’s who of Internet and transportation innovators, including Reid Hoffman, founder and chairman, LinkedIn; Mark Pincus, CEO, Zynga; Dan Kammen, director, UC Berkeley Institute of Transportation Studies; and Rick Hutchinson, CEO, City CarShare. The company says it will be able save car owners money on the cost of owning a vehicle and will enable people who don’t own a vehicle to have another car-as-a-service option. The company will use the web and social networking to deliver this distributed model of car sharing.

Spride Share is looking to grab ahold of the recent surge in car-sharing networks. According to Frost & Sullivan, the number of drivers using car-sharing networks increased 117 percent between 2007 and 2009 in North America. Within five years, the firm expects to see 4.4 million people in North America and 5.5 million people in Europe signing up for services like the one from Zipcar, more than tripling membership from 2009.

However, the big hitch right now for Spride Share is that current insurance law isn’t too friendly when it comes to people renting out personal vehicles (a startup called RelayRides that’s working with a similar idea for distributed car sharing has taken out a $1 million insurance policy to supplement a car owner’s coverage in case a user damages their car).┬áSo the service isn’t available now and might not be available until the law changes. On that end, the startup, along with City CarShare, has been working with California State Assembly member Dave Jones (D-Sacramento) to create Assembly Bill 1871, which would change insurance law to permit remuneration for personal vehicle sharing. The company asks you to support the bill on its site and is holding a press conference on the subject today.

If the service becomes available, Spride Share says it is free for vehicle owners to join, and they can make an estimated $2,000-$7,200 per year week depending on how many hours per week their cars are rented out. Spride Share plans to use a similar style communications service as Zipcar and City CarShare, with a key fob to open up the door and log in the user (the key fob system takes four hours to install, says the company), and the service sounds familiar as well with penalties for dirty cars and late returns.

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