Car-sharing comes to JP

November 8, 2010
By

David Taber

A new company wants to make it realistic for Jamaica Plain residents to imagine trips their cars might take without them.

The Cambridge-based start-up, RelayRides, is not looking to imbue local vehicles with Knight Rider-esque sentience. Instead, it wants to leverage the technology of the World Wide Web to connect people who need to borrow cars with car owners.

The year-and-a-half old company has a successful operation running in Cambridge and Somerville, with 50 car owners and 750 borrowers connected through the company’s web site, relayrides.com.

They are coming to JP thanks to the efforts of Andreé Zaleska, who, with Ken Ward, built the JP Green House, the couple’s home and a community center in the Woodbourne neighborhood that is one of the first carbon neutral homes in the city.

“I went to them because JP Green House is just into car sharing,” Zaleska told the Gazette, “I think it’s a nifty idea.”

Now, Zaleska—who will get a small cut from each JP transaction—is seeking to sign up the 50 borrowers and four car-owners Relay Rides requires to start up in the neighborhood, she said.

“We are doing really well with people who want to rent out their cars. We have six so far. We need more borrowers,” she said.

RelayRides director of marketing Boris Mordkovich told the Gazette the locally led JP effort is the first in the company’s “community participation program,” which it hopes to use to expand into other Greater Boston neighborhoods.

Owners and borrowers can both sign up via the company’s web site. Both owners’ cars and borrowers’ driving records are subjected to screening to make sure they meet company standards, Mordkovich said.

A “small non-invasive” computer is installed in qualified cars that includes a global positioning system and a card-swipe system so that borrowers can gain access to the cars when they have a confirmed reservation, he said.

Owners set their own rates for hourly rentals—generally between $6 and $8 an hour, or $48 to $60 a day, depending on the make and model of the car—and each car is covered by a $1 million insurance policy, that will cover the vehicles when they are being borrowed, he said. RelayRides covers the cost of the insurance, he said.

In September, the average owner made $250, Mordkovich said. The top earner made $600.

The location of the car and its availability during peak weekend hours are important, he said.

RelayRides takes a cut from the hourly rentals, and, according to its web site, “normally” charges owners a $250 setup fee. That fee, along with a regular $25 registration fee for car-borrowers, is currently being waived. RelayRides is also offering $25 of free driving credit for borrowers. Mordkovich said those promotions will be in place “for the foreseeable future.”

Mordkovich said the social benefits of the service, aside from taking cars off the road, include that it provides a disincentive to drive. Traditionally, “Owning a car is expensive, but driving [a car you own] is cheap, so it creates an incentive to drive more,” he said. “The economic cost attached to [hourly rental] reduces the number of miles people drive per year.”

He said that currently, at least, RelayRides sees its service as complimentary to Zipcar, another car-sharing service founded in Cambridge. Zipcar owns its fleet of hourly rental cars. “We were inspired by Zipcar. We are all pretty big Zipcar fans,” he said.

RelayRides hopes to launch in JP by the end of November.

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