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Personal car sharing comes to L.A.

RelayRides founder Shelby ClarkPersonal car sharing comes to Los Angeles on Monday. RelayRides, based in Boston, is expanding a service that allows car owners to rent their vehicles to other licensed drivers by the hour or the day.

"We've had literally thousands of people all over the country asking us to come to their neighborhoods since we started," said RelayRides founder Shelby Clark, 29. The 2-year-old service has 200 car owners loaning their vehicles to 6,000 renters in Boston and San Francisco.

Personal car sharing was legalized in California last year, but RelayRides and the other two companies that offered the service in the state (Getaround and Spride) operated only in San Francisco.

Car sharing would seem to work best where "it's easy to live without a car," Clark said, meaning a dense city with good public transportation. In areas such as L.A., where the opposite is true, Clark expects car sharing will be used as an alternative to buying a second or third car.

"A lot of families always need one car and sometimes need two," Clark said. "Right now, their only option is to round up. The only way to access that car when they need it is to own one."

Owners list their cars on the RelayRides website. The cars generally are no older than 10 years old and have fewer than 80,000 miles. Registered renters select a car they would like to use, make a reservation and pick up the car and the key from owners in person or through a lock box.

The starting price for RelayRides rentals is $5 per hour and includes gas, 20 miles of driving and insurance. RelayRides keeps 35% of the rental cost. The remaining 65% goes to the car owner. Monthly payments, which average $250, are sent to owners.

Nationally, 260 million cars are registered in the United States, according to Clark. Still, fewer than 1 million people use car sharing. That may change in the next few months when RelayRides partners with General Motors. The manufacturer has 6 million OnStar subscribers, whose cars will be available for rental through RelayRides and can be unlocked by smartphone.

"Urban mobility solutions are a vital building block of the future success of GM," said Steve Girsky, General Motors' vice chairman. "Peer to peer concepts such as RelayRides in combination with OnStar's technology delivers against this target. We could stand on the sidelines and watch or we could choose to participate and try to make it into a favorable business model, which in this particular case, we have."

Already, Ford has partnered with the car-sharing service Zipcar, which has its own cars from which members choose. Daimler, Volkswagen and BMW have also launched their own car-sharing services. Last week, Hertz expanded its global car-sharing service, which rents cars hourly. Jupiter Motorcycle Rentals in New York City also launched MotoShare, a motorcycle-sharing service.

Clark was inspired to start RelayRides after experimenting with Zipcar and deciding some customers might want easier access to vehicles that were close on short notice. "The answer to the lack of access to cars was not more cars," he said. "We needed better access."

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-- Susan Carpenter

Photo: RelayRides founder Shelby Clark drives a Mini Cooper available for sharing in Boston. Credit: RelayRides.

 
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