Away for holidays? Put your car to use

With hordes of holiday travelers expected to flee from The City this week, the streets of San Francisco are likely to be filled with rows of empty cars.

Usually, those vehicles just sit and collect dust for a few days, but this year their owners can make a few extra bucks by taking advantage of a new car-sharing system in San Francisco.

Called Getaround, the business has organized a network of car owners and renters around The City. Through the company, owners post a desired hourly price for usage of their car, and they are subsequently contacted by an interested renter.

Given a “soft launch” last month, Getaround now has cars available in every neighborhood in San Francisco. The cars range from high-end electric models manufactured by Tesla to more modest vehicles, according to company co-founder Jessica Scorpio.

Getaround is the latest in a trend of peer-to-peer car rentals in the area. Spride, another car-sharing venture based in the Bay Area that debuted earlier this year, offers a similar model.
 
Members of the Spride network install special hardware into cars that allows for door entry through a special key fob. Renters are charged a rate based on usage and the quality of the car. All the cars are required to be less than 5 years old.

Getaround features an application that allows renters to lock and unlock the vehicles with their mobile phones. For city residents too busy preparing to leave town for the holidays, they can leave keys in the car and avoid a formal meet-and-greet with the renters.

“Car owners can make some extra cash to put toward holiday shopping while helping the environment and those in need of a car,” Scorpio said. “The renter benefits too — it’s cost effective, hyperlocal and more convenient than rental car companies.”

Just like Zipcar and other corporate car-sharing companies, Getaround does screening checks on its applicants to make sure they have clean driving records and valid licenses, Scorpio said. The company covers auto insurance for the renters and takes a commission from each sale.

Matthew Willard, a college student at UC Davis who frequently visits San Francisco, said Getaround is a cheap and convenient way for him to travel when he comes to The City. He has been using the service for more than a month, and he said he expects it to grow, particularly during the holidays.

“This is a great way for owners to make a few extra bucks while they are away,” Willard said. “And for travelers coming into San Francisco, it’s a really cost-effective alternative to a rental car.”

Companies such as Getaround are popping up around California, aided by legislation passed this year that allows drivers to qualify for auto insurance coverage under the car-sharing services, even if they do not own the vehicle.

Scott Belcher, president of the Intelligent Transportation Society of America, said he expects car-sharing companies to continue to grow, aided by the annual spike in usage during the holiday season.

“This is a time when so many people are trying to use alternative travel models,” Belcher said. “So I think plenty of people will try to take advantage of this resource.”

wreisman@sfexaminer.com

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