“Peer to peer” car sharing ramps up

I’ve talked before about how car sharing service Zipcar has freed my wife and me from needing to own a car.  Unfortunately, similar non-ownership options aren’t available to most Americans for the simple reason that Zipcar’s fleet is mostly concentrated in urban centers and around college campuses.  For many suburbanites, the prospect of an inexpensive, on-demand, by-the-hour car rental hasn’t been an actual prospect.

With RelayRides rolling out nationwide this week, however, that may be changing:

Companies like RelayRides…offer a different take on carsharing than the one established by Zipcar and its competitors. While those companies own fleets of cars, RelayRides is entirely peer-to-peer — if you have a car, then you can make it available for rental when you’re not using it. RelayRides says the average car owner makes $250 a month from the program.

Since it takes advantage of the cars already on the road, founder and chief community officer Shelby Clark argues that peer-to-peer carsharing can have a big impact — after all, a fleet-based company couldn’t simply declare one day that it’s launching nationally.

This is potentially very disruptive of Zipcar’s business model.  RelayRides (and other challengers like Getaround) don’t have to go head-to-head with Zipcar in many parts of the country because those markets are utterly unserved.  And even where RelayRides has to go head-to-head with Zipcar, their prices seem comparable.  So long as the reservation process and pickup hassle is roughly the same, I know I would have no problem booking cars through RelayRides.  My purchases within an active market for by-the-hour car rentals would simply be driven by normal consumer considerations like price, convenience, customer service, etc.

Indeed, this is the beauty of the free market, as Leigh Beadon over at Techdirt reminds us:

Nobody is immune—not even the last disruptor. Companies like Zipcar changed the game with their car-sharing services, but they are already facing new challengers….How big and how successful [RelayRides’] approach will become remains to be seen, but it’s a creative idea that makes a clear point: disruption can happen anywhere, to anyone. As the entertainment industry continues to fight progress, experts from every side of the debate love to make profound-sounding statements about how the internet has changed our media consumption habits, but that’s old news. From mobile-based taxi & limo services to the coming era of 3D printers and things like the Pirate Bay’s Physibles site, digital technologies are disrupting a lot of things, not just media.

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