Got a car? Personal-vehicle sharing comes to California in 2011

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Car sharing hasn’t taken off in L.A., despite its promise for reducing traffic and residents’ need to own cars. But a new personal-vehicle sharing law that goes into effect Jan. 1 may change that.

AB 1871 allows Californians to rent their cars by the hour to offset their costs of ownership, as well as cars’ impact on the environment. Previously, California law prevented personal cars from being rented for commercial use.


‘Personal-car sharing can dramatically increase the number of vehicles in the traditional car-sharing fleet,’ said Sunil Paul, chief executive of Spride, a personal-car sharing service that initiated a pilot program in San Francisco last week in partnership with City CarShare.

Paul estimates the current U.S. fleet of 11,000 car-share vehicles could grow tenfold times once personal vehicles are allowed. Adding personal cars means car-share firms such as Spride don’t need to invest in their own vehicles and, as a result, don’t need to charge customers as much per hour. Paul says Spride’s average per-hour rental rate is $6.75, plus 35 cents per mile traveled.

Under the new law, individuals who rent their personal cars need to carry auto-insurance levels at least three times greater than the state’s current minimums of $15,000 for injury/death to one person, $30,000 for injury/death to more than one person and $5,000 for damage to property.

To rent their cars through a firm such as Spride, owners need well-maintained vehicles from the 2004 model year or later. Their cars would need to be outfitted with a reader that enables access to their cars with an electronic fob that also tracks the car’s use and calculates the amount to be billed. In the pilot, payments to the car owners are 40% of the amount billed and are issued via PayPal or electronic bank transfer. Car borrowers must go through a screening process to verify their driver’s license and driving record.

‘Our biggest issue with personal-car sharing is damage,’ said Melissa Hebert, director of operations for LAXCarShare, which operates a fleet of eight Nissan Versas in L.A. and has about 100 members. ‘What happens if a member damages a car? What happens to the person who loaned the car?’

Beyond that, Hebert added, ‘What happens if someone’s using your car and you need your car back?’

Ultimately, Hebert said, personal-car sharing faces the same obstacles as traditional car sharing: People have to give up their cars.

A 2004 UC Berkeley study that followed hundreds of City CarShare members in San Francisco found that 30% had sold one or more of their privately owned cars. They reduced their automotive travel by 47% and increased their use of public transit, walking and bicycling.

Paul says Spride plans to set up shop in L.A. once it’s worked out the kinks in San Francisco and will eventually branch out to San Diego and Sacramento. ‘If you’ve got 50 to 100 people who can get to a car within 10 minutes,’ he said, ‘personal-car sharing could work.’

-- Susan Carpenter