City CarShare is partnering with Spride on personal car sharing in San Francisco. (City CarShare photo)
If you love the idea of car sharing (membership services that let you access cars and trucks when you need them) you'll probably like "personal" car sharing even better. In this case, the cars belong to your friends and neighbors, and you borrow them and pay something like $5 an hour for the privilege.
A number of companies have been toying with this idea, from Baltimore to London, but it looks like a California company named Spride (working with San Francisco's nonprofit City CarShare) may be the first to really get it going. Why? Because they're changing California's thorny insurance laws to make the concept work.
Last week, Golden State legislators unanimously approved (75-0) a bill, introduced by Representative Dave Jones (D-Sacramento), that guarantees personal car sharers will keep their coverage intact if their cars go to work. The bill now goes to the state Senate, where chances are also good.
According to Jones, AB 1871 doesn't leave an insurance gap. It ensures that operators of any personal car-sharing service have "more than adequate" commercial insurance coverage to address any liability that occurs when the car is shared. Jones said he is "very optimistic" about his bill's chances in the state Senate "because we have demonstrated environmental benefits that will help all Californians."
This form of car sharing could be huge, because it unleashes American entrepreneurial spirit--there could be sharing pools springing up all over. Most cars sit around 95 percent of the time, so why not have them earning their keep, especially in these hard times? "It's very important that the cars people already own be better utilized," said Sarah Moussa, a field representative for Assemblyman Jones.
There are some caveats we have to think about here: who inspects cars to make sure they're roadworthy? How will access work? Can owners call their cars back if an emergency comes up? But the logistics of car sharing (which is heavily dependent on smart cards and other IT technology) are already pretty well worked out.
Spride Share is the brainchild of Sunil Paul, a west coast clean-tech investor. He told me he could have a pilot program up and running in San Francisco six months after the governor signs a passed bill into law. "The beneficiaries of this will be the people of California," he told me. "We don't want to invest resources until we know there will be enabling legislation. He pronounced himself "super thrilled" at the vote, whose unanimity was unusual in strife-torn California.
The California legislation will doubtless have copycats around the world, and the idea may soon accelerate as fast as my neighbor's Tesla Roadster. Will he ever surrender the keys to that?
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