A new type of neighborhood car-sharing program has been launched in Chicago, including in high-rise residential buildings and areas with large pockets of low-wage earners, under a study aimed at expanding transportation options while reducing overall car ownership in the city, officials will announce Monday.
Evanston, a suburb well served by the CTA, Metra and Pace and as a result where many cars sit parked at the curb for most of the day, also is embracing the idea that each shared car can take 10 cars off the road. Officials in the North Shore suburb say they are eager to test the possibility that people commuting to work via mass transit would be willing to let others rent their cars for a few hours or up to day.
Unlike Zipcar and traditional rental-car companies that own fleets of vehicles and offer them for rent for as briefly as an hour, the new twist here is the person-to-person, or P2P, car-sharing element using idle vehicles already taking up space on the street.
In essence, Sally owns a car and she rents it to Joe. And thanks to technology, the two never have to even meet each other and the rental process can be completed in minutes using smartphones.
Backed by a federal grant, the two-year car-sharing study represents a social experiment to make better use of a resource that many Americans couldn't bear to think about living without in a nation where the personal car is king of the road. For others, people who rely mostly on public transportation or bicycles, there still is an occasional need — taking an ill child to the doctor or lugging home a 40-pound bag of cat litter, for example — to have access to a motor vehicle.
"The mission is to make it possible to live well without owning a car,'' said Sharon Feigon, executive director of the Shared-Use Mobility Center. The center, a nonprofit group that concentrates on developing new transportation choices in urban areas, is partnering with the San Francisco-based company Getaround on the car-sharing pilot project in four Chicago neighborhoods — Bridgeport, Bronzeville, Pilsen and Rogers Park — as well as Evanston.
Most privately owned vehicles in the U.S. sit parked more than 90 percent of the day, according to a study by the Transportation Research Board. There are far better uses for the land occupied by idle vehicles, urban planners have long said.
And the car-sharing study in Chicago also presents new avenues to explore solutions to traffic congestion and air pollution, advocates say. Devices that will be installed on car-share vehicles will collect data to help identify how people use car-sharing, officials said, adding that privacy issues have been addressed to protect the users. While some people might still object, officials said the goal is to gather information for transportation planning.
"Car owners can make a little money and feel good that their car is in service to others,'' Feigon said. "We expect 10,000 people will use the service over the two-year test period.''
The project is funded by a $475,000 grant from the Federal Highway Administration. The grant will be used to test three models of peer-to-peer car sharing: in low- to moderate-income communities; in large residential developments where vehicle owners can share their cars with people who live in the same apartment building; and in suburbs that are not typically served by traditional car-sharing services, Feigon said.
Feigon was previously chief executive officer of the nonprofit IGO, which started car-sharing in the Chicago area. IGO was sold in 2013 to Enterprise, which changed the IGO name to Enterprise CarShare.
Getaround was selected for the federal grant as the result of the company's in-car technology to gather data on a range of metrics, a spokesman for the company said.
Getaround is not connected with the Chicago Tribune's Getting Around column, which has been published on Mondays since 1990.
Getaround operates an online service (www.getaround.com) for vehicle owners to post their rentals and for customers using a credit card and an Android or iPhone mobile device to make their selection based on price ($5 per hour and up) and whether they need basic transportation or an SUV or truck.
Getaround furnishes a GPS-equipped mobile app, which is used by the renter to locate the vehicle and unlock the doors, and the company carries out other functions, including providing commercial insurance and arranging vehicle inspections and driving-record checks.
Vehicles currently listed on the getaround.com website range from a Ford Focus at $7.50 per hour to a Cadillac Escalade at $18 an hour. There is a small stock of cars, about 50 vehicle owners are participating since Getaround began a "soft launch'' about a month ago, company officials said, but the goal is to quickly ramp up to about 300 vehicles in the areas where the study is being conducted.
Tyler Morris learned about the company and quickly became a Getaround member to put some extra cash in his pocket and help him make car-loan payments on his 2013 Hyundai Sonata, which he now uses infrequently after switching jobs and moving to downtown Chicago, he said.
"I take the CTA to my new job, but I'm already committed to making monthly car payments and paying for parking. It's pretty expensive every single month,'' said Morris, 22, a Hinsdale native who lives in the River North neighborhood.
Getaround provides a recommended hourly rental price for each car, based on model and year, and vehicle owners can set a price within 20 percent above or below. Morris listed his Sonata at $7.50 an hour, which is slightly below the $8 that Getaround suggests for that four-door sedan. He believes his strategy has helped to attract about a dozen renters in July, earning him about $350, he said.
"I was a little nervous at first that my car would get crashed, stolen or trashed, but it has been going pretty well,'' he said. "Some people return it with more gas than I had in the tank when they rented it.
"And it's funny, but when people return the car they tend to park it in the exact same parking space where I left it, so it's like the car was never gone,'' said Morris, who works in the sales department of a lighting contractor in Chicago.
Before approving vehicle owners and rental customers, Getaround conducts some basic checks, including driving records and a vehicle inspection, and provides $1 million in commercial insurance coverage while the vehicles are rented. Additional details are addressed to cover various contingencies.
"They pick up your car and take it for 48 hours to install a tracking device with a locking mechanism so renters can unlock the car using their mobile device. They take pictures of your car for the website and they even wash your car,'' Morris said.
The bottom line is that the car owner, who pays a $99 upfront membership and a $20 monthly fee, receives 60 percent of the rental fee collected by Getaround, which keeps the remaining 40 percent, said Jessica Scorpio, the 28-year-old founder of Getaround. She is also the company's vice president of marketing.
"We make money when the car owner makes money,'' said Scorpio, who said she has been working on the peer-to-peer car-sharing concept for more than five years.
"We are very mission-based. The ethos of our company is to enable people to car-share everywhere, including in neighborhoods where you might not expect it, and to take cars off the road. The big difference about us (versus car-share companies that own fleets) is that we are using cars and parking spots that already exist in the neighborhoods.''
Getaround operates in San Francisco, Portland, Ore., Washington, D.C., and now Chicago, where it first launched in 2012 and folded. It was under a different business model that was not successful because it lacked "on-demand technology,'' Scorpio said. The process became bogged down due to factors that included a slow exchange of keys from vehicle owner to renter, she said.
"We are excited to say that Getaround is back in Chicago,'' Scorpio said. Car owners who join and make their vehicles available at least 75 percent of the time for Getaround renters to reserve will be guaranteed $3,000 to $5,000 in rental income, depending on the car's home location, in the first year, Scorpio said. Any shortfall will be reimbursed to the vehicle owner by the company, she said.
Community leaders are hopeful that the car-sharing study will provide a new convenience for people who occasionally need a car and in particular help low-income families stretch their budgets by not spending money on car payments, repairs and insurance.
Pilsen resident Natalia Rodriguez, who signed up with Getaround last week, said she switched over from a different provider because Getaround does not charge a membership fee to car-share renters.
"We have limited services in Pilsen, and there are times I cannot do what I need to do using the bus or my bicycle,'' said Rodriguez, 38, who works as a loan intake specialist at Accion Chicago, a nonprofit lender to small businesses and start-up businesses.
Getaround has stirred interest among some Rogers Park residents with its promotion of car-sharing at the Glenwood Sunday Market farmers market, said Sheree Moratto, sustainability director at the Rogers Park Business Alliance.
"People here liked IGO. I think this is another mind-bending idea that could be perceived in the same way,'' Moratto said. "It could also be a new revenue stream for car owners who want to make some money renting out their cars.''
Feigon said she began the process of applying for a roughly $715,000 federal grant, of which $475,000 will go to Getaround, when she was working for the Center for Neighborhood Technology in Chicago. Other agencies involved in the study on a limited basis include the Illinois Department of Transportation and the Chicago Department of Transportation, officials said.