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Car-sharing programs hit the big time

Thu, 26 May 2011 00:00:00 -0700

Rental-car company Getaround introduced its business plan for “peer-to-peer car sharing” on May 24 at the Tech Crunch Disrupter conference in New York City. Unlike other car-renting and car-sharing companies such as ZipCar, Getaround works by connecting potential car renters with willing car owners via an iPhone app.

All Getaround vehicles are privately owned. An owner can sign up for the program and, if he is not actively using the vehicle, he can charge to rent it out. The potential renter checks his phone, finds a car that's close and books the deal. Once the renter is approved by the owner, he uses the phone application to access the car.

Owners can choose how much to charge, but cars currently on the site run from $5 to $15 per hour.

If a Getaround car gets wrecked, is stolen or is left with an empty tank, the company's basic insurance would cover the issue. The renter/driver is responsible for a $500 deductable, but beyond that, it's all covered. A representative from Getaround told AutoWeek that an owner should expect the same claim speed as he or she would from a current insurance provider.

The company also announced Berkshire Hathaway as an insurance partner, which was one of the biggest hurdles left to clear for a country-wide launch.

Currently, the company operates in the San Francisco Bay area and in parts of San Diego, but it will be accepting cars across the country on a city-by-city basis.

Getaround is the just the latest player in the car time-sharing game. ZipCar was started more than a decade ago. With that service, you get a ZipCar card, which you use to pay for and unlock cars. ZipCar covers gasoline and insurance as well. The company recently launched its initial public offering.

I-Go is a Chicago-based company that works the same way as ZipCar. Members get a card to open doors and keep tabs on their balance. While the car is in service, drivers use the keys and fobs like normal.

Relay Rides is a service that primarily operates in Boston and San Francisco. It's more like Getaround, using a peer-to-peer philosophy. The company also pays for gasoline and insurance.

The companies with monthly rates charge about $50. Others only rent by the hour, and some have yearly rates for heavy usage.

By Jake Lingeman