[Idea File] Cruising in your neighbor's car

Today’s idea
Car sharing services such as Zipcar have been around for a while, allowing people to access vehicles quickly and for short periods of time. But what if you could rescue your neighbor’s unused car from its dark garage or lonely side street and take it for a spin instead?

San Francisco-based Spride, Boston’s RelayRides and WhipCar in London were all revved up about this idea enough to launch personal car sharing services this year. Although the three companies have varied approaches to the nuts and bolts of the “how,” all support car sharing as a way to increase cash flow, help the environment, and fuel community.

A little too green? Photo by Flickr user makeshiftlove (Creative Commons)

Why we’re adding it to the Idea File
Peer-to-peer car lending reduces waste by providing a direct solution to a need. How?

  • Make money, save money. Car owners get a little extra cash, while car seekers save on rental costs. The rate for Relay Rides, for example, ranges from $6-$8 per hour as compared to Zipcar, whose rates start at $7 per hour as go as high as almost $15.
  • Help the planet. The average car sits idle 90% of its lifetime. Instead of acquiring a whole new fleet of cars and contributing to the overall negative environmental impact, personal car sharing services utilize vehicles that are already on the road. Plus, the likelihood of using a green vehicle is higher.
  • Bond with your neighbors. Car lending is almost as personal as someone lending you their favorite book – think how much you could learn about the guy down the block just by sliding into the driver’s seat. Also, this type of service inevitably brings a more human element to a usually personality-less business. WhipCar, for example, only allows the hand-off of the car to be face-to-face.

How you can replicate it
First, see if this kind of service already exists where you live, whether in a formal or informal capacity. If not, start small with your own networks and grow it from there. (Make sure to check laws regarding insurance coverage.) Go the extra mile by getting in touch with the above mentioned companies to learn about their challenges and successes, and find other interested people in your area by searching Idealist.

Caveats and considerations
The most obvious risk for car owners is that a stranger might ruin their car. Endless things could go wrong while a car is out on the road, not to mention the wear and tear that comes with continually lending. Meanwhile, car borrowers might not know what they’re going to get with an used car, it might not be close to where they live, and the choice of vehicles could be limited. Safety concerns are always an issue, and insurance laws might also be tricky to navigate.

What do you think? Would you go along for the ride, or is this idea too risky?

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If I Had a Hammer: Tool Lending Libraries

I love public libraries. They provide a fair system for sharing books, movies, and other media with other members of the community. It seems only natural that the library model could be expanded to include other useful, shareable items.

By Flickr user takomabibelot (Creative Commons)

So I was thrilled when I heard about tool lending libraries. Tools, like books, are infinitely useful and empowering, but sometimes only get used once. Tool lending libraries, which often work just like regular libraries, allow people to borrow things like drills, clamps, and wheelbarrows — making repairs and improvement projects more affordable and accessible.

Wikipedia lists more than 25 tool libraries around the United States, Canada, and Australia. Many are run out of existing public libraries (Berkeley Public Library was one of the first to offer the service) or other government agencies.

Some tool libraries are affiliated with volunteer programs. HandsOn Greater Portland lends out tools for volunteer projects, while HandsOn New Orleans offers the tools that aren’t currently being used for volunteer projects out to the public. In addition to a tool library, Rebuilding Together Central Ohio sends volunteers to help low-income, elderly, and disabled community members with house repairs.

Other libraries are limited to lending tools that serve a certain purpose. The Ottawa Public Library lends out pedometers to encourage citizens to walk more and improve their health. Silicon Valley Power offers tools (electric meters, caulking guns, etc.) that help Santa Clara residents and businesses monitor and increase their energy efficiency.

If you already have more tools than you know what to do with, consider donating some to a tool library near you.

[This blog entry appeared on an older version of Idealist; any broken links are a result of having re-launched our site in Fall 2010.]

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