Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Personal car sharing almost, not quite, eliminates the middle"man"

According to the Los Angeles Times, in "Personal car-sharing is a new twist on auto rentals," a number of car sharing systems have been set up where a web-based service acts as the intermediary between renters and the use of personally-owned automobiles. The rate is a bit cheaper than what Zipcar charges in the DC area.

From the article:

Emily Castor's metallic gray Honda has been driven by dozens of people she's never met. They treat it well, pay any tickets they get and do the dirty work of finding a legal parking spot when they return it to her neighborhood near Golden Gate Park.

Castor, 29, is pulling in hundreds of dollars each month through one of several personal car-sharing companies that have burgeoned in the Bay Area over the last year. For $8 an hour or $45 a day, renters can climb behind the wheel of her Civic. Insurance is included.

The Bay Area has become a laboratory for personal car-sharing, as well as the broader "collaborative consumption" movement. Rooms in private homes, outgrown children's clothes, parking spaces and more can be rented, borrowed, bartered or gifted through a burgeoning number of Web-based ventures.

Unlike companies such as Zipcar that finance and maintain a fleet of vehicles, personal car-sharing networks are possible wherever enough owners and renters sign up. There are nine operating in the U.S. — at least one of which has plans to expand in Los Angeles— and 25 globally, said Susan Shaheen of UC Berkeley's Transportation Sustainability Research Center.

My sense though is that these kinds of services, while important at the margins, will always be relatively low-use, because even with the intermediary, too many people are uncomfortable dealing, even indirectly, with individuals.

E.g., I don't think I'd have a problem with it, but Suzanne would. On the other hand, she's comfortable using VRBO, a vacation rental program not unlike the personal car sharing programs profiled in the LAT article, but not Airbnb. See "When collaborative consumption goes bad" from Grist Magazine.

In any case, this type of service is one more positive contribution to car ownership reduction in center cities. I don't remember the exact number but typically one car in a car share program supports 15+ people, and therefore those people don't buy cars and attempt to store them in the very limited number of public parking spots available on city streets.

Unstash is a startup working to set up ways for sharing infrequently used items, like tools. (E.g., I would gladly get involved in a collaborative consumption arrangement with someone owning a chipper/shredder.)

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