Members of Bay Area car sharing service City CarShare will soon be able to rent out cars provided by local strangers; it’ll be one of the first and largest distributed car sharing programs out there. Yesterday, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed Bill 1871 into law, which enables car owners to share their personal cars with a car sharing service without breaching their insurance policies. The legal milestone paved the way for startup Spride Share, which has been working on a business around facilitating distributed car sharing, to officially launch its pilot program.
Spride Share is the brain child of Spring Ventures investor Sunil Paul, and the company boasts an advisory board that’s a who’s who of Internet and transportation innovators, including LinkedIn founder and chairman Reid Hoffman, Zynga CEO Mark Pincus, UC Berkeley Institute of Transportation Studies director Dan Kammen, and City CarShare CEO Rick Hutchinson. Spride Share started talking about its plans in April, but had been waiting for the law to pass before actively launching its service.
Spride Share’s Paul told me in a phone interview this morning that about a dozen participants would be involved in the company’s initial trial in the Bay Area, which would focus on user behavior, and which would last somewhere between a couple of months and a year. After the initial trial period, the company plans to open up the service to the rest of City CarShare’s 13,000 users, which would make it one of the largest distributed car sharing programs out there.
Spride Share members that share their cars will have to meet requirements for car year and condition, as well as likely a list of other characteristics. Spride Share car users will just rent out the cars in much the same way as City CarShare members do today.
The idea behind the business venture is this: During all those hours when a car would normally sit around unused, it could instead be rented out to responsible neighbors, facilitated by online social networks. The car owner gets a little money, and Spride Share gets a cut.
Despite its Silicon Valley pedigree, Spride offers an example of a greentech venture that’s enabled by technology, but isn’t a technology play. “This is not going to be the whiz-bang app, or the whiz-bang anything,” said Paul in an interview a few weeks ago. Rather, Spride’s success will hinge on catching policies up with an opportunity and capitalizing on what Paul sees as a general trend toward cars in “reasonably dense settings” becoming a shared resource, “like cloud computing for cars.”
Spride Share isn’t the first company to try tackling this challenge. RelayRides offers a similar “neighbor-to-neighbor car sharing” service in Cambridge, Mass., for example, and WhipCar has launched a relatively low-tech program (car owner and borrower have to meet in person) in London. Paul told us a couple of weeks ago that he’s hopeful that Spride will be better at attracting vehicle owners and earning their confidence, partly by using the tools and networks that the company’s allies know so well. “I hope they all do well,” Paul said of Spride’s competitors, adding, “We expect we’ll be doing the best out of all of them.”
The bill that was signed into law this week gives the legal go ahead to both Spride Share and its competitors.
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