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'AirBnB For Cars' Coming to Bridgeport, Pilsen

By Casey Cora | January 19, 2015 5:26am
 A new car-sharing program is expected to roll out this spring in Bridgeport and Pilsen.
A new car-sharing program is expected to roll out this spring in Bridgeport and Pilsen.
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BRIDGEPORT — The Pilsen and Bridgeport neighborhoods will soon be part of a car-sharing pilot program — one that is being described as "AirBnB ... for cars."

Tentatively titled NeighborCar, the program works like this:

Drivers looking for a temporary set of wheels can link up with car owners who've agreed to hand over their keys for a defined period of time and for a set price.

Casey Cora says the program is in its early phases:

It's sort of like Zipcar, the "wheels when you want them" membership service that supplies a fleet of cars and SUVs throughout the city. The Alternative Transportation for Chicagoland was the pioneer for such programs, having launched its iGo car-sharing network in 2002; it was sold to Enterprise in 2013

But Sarah Nemecek, who's managing NeighborCar's rollout, says to think of the new local program more "like AirBnB but for cars."

"Instead of a fixed fleet, this fleet of cars belongs to existing car owners," she said.

Nemecek said peer-to-peer sharing can be cheaper than the larger services, which typically require membership fees.

With NeighborCar, car owners set their own hourly or daily rates for renters. 

The program is still in its early phases, and the group is taking some cues from other peer-to-peer car-sharing businesses in Chicago, including Relay Rides and the forthcoming Getaround, both of which are part of larger, nationwide services that facilitate the transactions, handle the insurance and provide customer service.

Those businesses typically have requirements for both the renter and the car owner.

Getaround, for example, only accepts cars from 2004 or later, with fewer than 125,000 miles on the odometer. On the flipside, those renting the cars are subjected to mandatory checks of driving records and criminal histories.

NeighborCar is being run by the Alternative Transportation for Chicagoland, a division of the Center for Neighborhood Technology, a Bucktown-based civic nonprofit.

NeighborCar's rules still are being written as it recruits owners and renters in Pilsen and Bridgeport. The program, which will be rolled out with help from a Federal Highway Administration grantis expected to start in the spring.

Nemecek said the group picked those neighborhoods because of their unique transportation infrastructures and varying income levels. 

"Peer-to-peer car-sharing has the potential to scale to neighborhoods where traditional car-sharing isn't available or hasn't worked. With traditional car-sharing, you need infrastructure like [reserved] parking spots, but with peer-to-peer the cars can be anywhere in the street," she said.

While car-sharing services have become a fixture in larger cities, the benefits of peer-to-peer sharing for individual car owners include a big financial advantage. 

In the mid-1990s, a West Coast urban planning professor, Donald Shoup, concluded in his seminal book"The High Cost of Free Parking" that the average car spends 95 percent of its time unused.

That's a staggering amount of downtime for a big-ticket item, so renting cars out can prove lucrative for those willing to fork over their keys to (qualified) strangers.

Car owners "can take this as an opportunity to make some of their money back. You can make some extra income while renting your car when you're already at work," Nemecek said. 

Anyone looking for more information on the program can check out the NeighborCar website or snemecek@cnt.org

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