Car-sharing is a utopian idea. Several companies are trying to build ways for people to rent out their vehicles to others for an hourly fee, and they all say they’re doing it for the best reasons—to let people make extra money from an expensive possession they’re not using much, to save the world’s resources, to bring neighbours together in mutually beneficial transactions. Peer-to-peer car-sharing also assumes the best of us. Only in a world in which people are fundamentally good—in which I can be pretty sure that you won’t trash my ride just because it’s not yours—would this scheme work. Finally, these businesses imagine that the government and insurance companies will be forward-thinking enough to go along with the plan, too.
I would love to live in that world—a world where sharing your car is as hassle-free as selling a knick-knack on eBay, and you could consider renting your neighbour’s barely used convertible for a fun weekend getaway. But I’ve been worried that our world isn’t ready to share. In March, when I wrote enthusiastically about RelayRides, a startup that had just launched a nationwide car-sharing service, most readers pooh-poohed the idea. Lots of people said they’d never be comfortable lending their cars to strangers—they’d all taken liberties with rental cars, so they assumed that strangers would mistreat their vehicles, too. The idea is also plagued by ongoing legal and regulatory uncertainties, and, until recently, the process of the technology to manage handing over the car from owner to renter was too cumbersome.