Airport Car Sharing Goes Big

Say that you, like many other travelers, drive to your airport, stash your car in a long-term parking lot, and head off for a one- or two-week vacation. When you return, you pay $10 to $20 per day to reclaim your car. At the same time, someone you pass in the airport lobby gets off a plane and heads for a desk where he or she pays $40 to $50 per day to rent a car for a week or two. Together, you and the visitor pay $50 to $70 per day on cars. But it doesn't have to be that way: "Peer-to-peer" car-sharing outfits are moving into airport transport to compete with established operators. In exchange for letting visitors drive their cars, local car owners get to park "free," and visitors pay a lot less than they'd pay a rental company. That's the basic idea behind FlightCar, Hubber, and RelayRides.

Newbie FlightCar currently operates at Boston/Logan and San Francisco International:

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  • The parking deal is that you first register your car, with make, model, mileage, transmission, and whether or not you smoke or use the car to transport pets. At the airport, you park free, whether or not your car is rented, and if it is, FlightCar pays you $10 to $20 per day. Before returning you car, FlightCar washes it and cleans the interior. FlightCar vets potential drivers' records, limits driving to 90 miles per day, and provides full liability and collision insurance.
  • The rental deal is that you select the specific car you want from a list of available vehicles. Your rate is less than the lowest available commercial rate, and it includes full liability and collision insurance and a GPS unit, both of which are extras on commercial rentals.
  • Both parkers and renters get airport and parking-lot pickup and drop-off.

Hubber, also new, works about the same way. It even promises that, if your car is rented, Hubber will wash the car and give it a full tank of gas. Rental rates include gas as well as the standard insurance. Hubber's launch is at Los Angeles International, but it has announced a San Francisco opening.

Meanwhile, established RelayRides operates a slightly different sharing system geared more toward long-term or repeated exchanges than one-off airport parking—ongoing weekdays or weekends, for example, or often extended periods, although it does do occasional airport rentals, too. You register your car and indicate its availability, along with other details, which RelayRides posts. You get to review any potential renter in advance. You set the price, of which RelayRides collects a 25 percent fee (you get the remaining 75 percent). RelayRides operates at or near dozens of U.S. airports, where many posted rentals feature low hourly rates along with the more conventional daily longer-term rates.

Despite the current growth spurt, all is not well in the car-sharing business. The sharing operators currently do not register or obtain taxi permits; they don't obtain permits and pay fees to operate from airport property. Boston and San Francisco are both challenging the sharing operators and are trying either to prevent them from operating entirely or at least forcing them to pay the same fees and charges other renters do. Although all three companies are currently operating (as far as I can tell), you can expect ongoing litigation, lobbying, and maybe an injunction or two before the dust settles—if it ever totally settles.

If you're intrigued, check out the existing operations in Boston, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, and look for more locations to come.

Ride sharing, a totally different approach, is also growing in a big way. Some operators specialize in local sharing; others in long-haul. I'll cover this in an upcoming column.

Meanwhile, a disclaimer: I haven't personally tried any of these car-sharing approaches, so I can't vouch for them. And it's likely to be a very long time before one of them sets up shop at my local airport in Medford, Oregon.

Ed Perkins Seniors on the Go is copyright (c) 2012 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

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