Collaborative Telemetrics

If Rachel Botsman and Roo Rogers are right in their recent book “What’s Mine is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption”, we can expect a rise in peer-to-peer car sharing.  P2P car sharing turns any owner of an automobile into a single-car car-rental company, with reservation services provided online. Right now one of the US operators, RelayRides out of Cambridge Mass, installs technology to lock and unlock the vehicle using a near field communication card that the renter-member keeps in her purse meaning that key-exchange does not require owner attention. That’s a start.

Traditional car-share operations such as ZipCar, lower automobile ownership, reduce demand for parking space, reduce automotive miles traveled, and likely reduce traffic congestion in peak times. P2P car sharing offers all these things—and more. VMT supply can be increased dramatically without investing in more vehicles, car owners can have their neighbors make their car payments for them, it can make a greater variety of vehicle sizes and types available to a car share renter, and the vehicle storage depot problem mostly goes away.

While traditional car sharing has economic incentives for people who only need occasional access to a vehicle, P2P carsharing has economic incentives for car owners. This is disruptive, making it something to watch. 

Wikipedia lists 13 P2P car share operators world-wide—with the 1st launch in Germany in 2001. Half of these launched or are launching in 2011. Tellingly, one of the founders of ZipCar, Robin Chase, is also the founder of Buzzcar a P2P service in France. I predict 100s of these will be set up in as many cities and only after we figure out how to do it will the market pick a handful of winners.

The key to P2P carsharing work is trust. You need to trust that my car will be clean, safe and operational and I need to trust that you will respect my property. Trusting strangers from whom you might buy something is well-managed with online purchasing from auction sites like eBay or the used book jobbers that trade on Amazon. If you rent your car online—as you would if you were a car owner in a P2P car-share transaction—your reputation (well, your car's reputation) will be gleaned from your users by the site that manages the transaction. But what about the renter's reputation? After all, you will not want your car to be subject to automatic speeding or red-light tickets and parking fines. How will you know if a renter abuses your accelerator or clutch?

There's other things such as insurance and perhaps wanting a different rate from someone who uses your car for two hours to drive a hundred highway miles vs someone using the same two hours to drive just couple of miles to visit his auntie.

Telemetrics systems can address all of this. An in-car meter that measures speed, braking, steering could automatically establish a driver’s reputation for the car owner. While there is no need to track the driver, “driver-style can be calculated as a reputation factor and the car owner can decline or accept further rental requests based on that reputation. While we are at it, the same meter can manage distance traveled, usage-based insurance, even parking payment, bridge or tunnel tolls, and so on.

What is now possible is for P2P car share operators to equip a member’s vehicle with a meter sufficient to calculate the entire trip cost on an equitable usage basis for automatic billing and permit the car owner to select driver style thresholds, so that she need not be concerned with any of these matters.

Collaborative Telemetrics could make P2P carsharing the “Killer App” of 21st century automobility.