Uber! Lyft! Car2go! ReachNow! ZipCar! Getaround! All the kids are doing it! But what the hell are they doing?
The signs are pointing to less car ownership in the future. The way dealers do it now, selling one car to one person, is not going to be a sustainable business model forever, so companies are putting their bets on as many models of transportation as they can, and fast. Ford, for example is positioning itself as a mobility company, whatever that might mean tomorrow or the next day.
Ride hailing services are the ones you’ve probably heard the most about, even if you haven’t actually used one (most people haven’t, even in 2016). These are companies like Uber, Lyft, or the woman-specific See Jane Go.
Basically, you download the app, and so does the driver. You open the app and hail a ride, and a driver will answer that request in her own personal car, not a taxi. The app tells you both where the pickup will happen, you tell the driver where to drop you off, and you pay via the app.
Ride sharing is more like organized carpooling. A service (one of the coolest is Tesloop) arranges for riders to share a trip, often in one of the service’s vehicles. Maybe that’s a daily commute in a van so you all get to take the faster carpool lane and answer emails on your way to the office. Or maybe that’s a ride in a Tesla Model X from Los Angeles to Las Vegas, like Tesloop does, so you don’t have to fly.
Car sharing can take a couple of forms. One is the free-floating car sharing service, like car2go and ReachNow. Members can unlock a car anywhere in the service area and drive around paying by the minute, with or without making a reservation in advance. They only have to leave the vehicle inside the service area, even if that’s miles from where they started.
ZipCar uses point-to-point car sharing. Vehicles are located at specific places throughout a city, usually in busy neighborhoods. Users reserve a car and pick it up from that parking space, drive around paying by the minute, and bring it back to that very same parking space. It’s more like a micro-rental.
The last kind of car sharing is peer-to-peer, like Getaround. Think about your own car: you drive it to work, it sits for eight hours, you drive it home, it sits for 12 hours. What if you rented that car out to your neighbors or fellow apartment dwellers or coworkers when you’re not using it? That’s peer-to-peer car sharing.
Who Uses These Things?
Well, urban hipsters who don’t want to spend money on car maintenance, parking fees, fuel, insurance, etc. use all these things. But don’t let that limit you if you don’t consider yourself hip. You do kind of have to be urban at this point to take advantage, though. These services do best with some population density.
Lots of people use ride hailing for medical appointments, especially if they know they’ll be unable to drive after. For instance, if you feel a little woozy after getting a shot (I do) or can’t drive after having your eyes dilated, ride hailing can get you where you need to go.
Ride sharing can return useable minutes to your day. When someone else is driving, you can check email, zone out to music, meditate, or finally get all the way through David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, footnotes and all.
And car sharing is great for people who want to squeeze a couple extra dollars out of their cars. Everyone knows that the value of your vehicle drops as soon as you drive off the lot, so why not make up a little of that depreciation in car sharing fees? At the very least, you could offset the cost of your daily commute.