RelayRides, Out to Be the Community-Powered Zipcar, Hits the Ground With Pilot Rental Program

6/22/10Follow @xconomy

In 2007 Shelby Clark’s car died just as he crossed into San Francisco, ready to start work with micro-lending nonprofit Kiva.org. He discovered ZipCar once he got to the Bay Area and a year later still hadn’t bought a car of his own.

Fast-forward to November 2008. Clark had moved to Boston to attend Harvard Business School, with the goal of getting into social entrepreneurship. He was biking through sleet and snow to his Zipcar rental, two-and-a-half miles away, while passing dozens of unused cars on the street. And there you have the inspiration behind his Cambridge, MA-based startup RelayRides.

“We already have this massive resource in our communities,” he says. “Zipcar works, but I thought it would be better if we could just use people’s cars.”

RelayRides builds on the car-sharing idea that Zipcar took the masses, but expands on its powerful themes of creating community and a more sustainable alternative to traditional car ownership. Clark thought the car-sharing model could better serve the customers if more vehicles were closer to where customers actually lived. And he thought the way to get them there is by using vehicles that are already owned by consumers and parked in residential areas.

RelayRides, which began its pilot phase with the first car rental last Wednesday, enables users to rent cars by the hour much like Zipcar. But instead of a commercial fleet, the RelayRides inventory consists of entirely of cars owned by everyday people. It strikes me as a more structured system of borrowing your best friend’s or roommate’s car (which I frequently do).

The company bought off-the-shelf technology to transform RelayRides vehicles for renting. It equips the customers with membership cards, and places card-readers in the cars, much like Zipcar. RelayRides also offers in-vehicle consoles that immediately gather user feedback on the condition of the vehicles, and allows users to extend their hourly reservations. Customers can … Next Page »

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