RelayRides Provides Access to Your Neighbor’s Car with RFID
This summer on the streets of Cambridge, MA, a few well intentioned hawkers were handing out nicely printed postcards with information about what appeared to be some kind of local ride share offering. A commuter from well outside of Cambridge, I stuffed the card in my bag and didn’t pay it much attention. It wasn’t until I read a recent article published in Scott Kirsner's Innovation Economy column in the Boston Globe that I made the connection.
RelayRides, the business being marketed on the post card and the subject of Kirsner’s article, is a Cambridge based start-up that matches people who need a car for local transportation with people who own underutilized cars and want to earn a little money by lending them out. Marketed as person-to-person or neighbor-to-neighbor car-sharing, RelayRides puts a twist on car-share services by getting car owners to share their vehicles with perfect strangers. In addition to facilitating the transaction and insuring the drivers, RelayRides also installs the necessary technology in each car – including an RFID sensor that unlocks the doors when a RelayRides membership card is swiped over the windshield.
Car sharing in Europe began decades ago and started to catch on in the United States about 10 years ago. ZipCar, which owns a fleet of vehicles instead of using other people’s cars, is a leader in the car share market with about 325,000 members. According to an article in The New York Times, ZipCar is experiencing increasing competition from small regional car sharing services, presumably like RelayRides, and from programs offered by well known rental companies like Connect by Hertz and Enterprise WeCar.
With Connect by Hertz claiming most of its 10,000 members participating in programs offered at universities and ZipCar claiming to have cars on 140 campuses, the education market seems to be a prime target for their programs. The growing number of hybrid and electric cars entering the market also seems to be a natural fit for car-share programs – lending to analyst forecasts of membership growth to two million by 2013.
What do you think? Would you participate in a car-share program with your own car? On a larger scale, what are your thoughts on the combination of RFID-enabled automobile access for car-share programs, RFID-enabled electric car charging stations, and contactless payment methods? They seem to be making for an interesting emerging transit and commuting infrastructure.