More sharing for greater efficiency

A line of Car2Go Smart Cars in Washington D.C.

Tess Vigeland: We were all taught to share as kids. After all, it's the nice thing to do. So when we grow up and can buy our own things, some of us tend to relish the idea that we don't have to share. Our food, our clothes, our grown up "toys" like electronics or cars.

But there's a movement afoot called "the sharing economy." It says owning things just bogs us down. And sharing offers more freedom, financially and otherwise.

From the Marketplace Sustainability Desk, Eve Troeh reports that mobile technology is driving a new generation of sharing consumers.


Eve Troeh: The more expensive something is, the more sense it makes to share it. A vacation home for the weekend, a designer dress for that black-tie dinner -- even that most-prized American possession, the car. There are now apps and websites for all those things. Sharing's now a way to flex to your tech.

But let's focus on cars. We'll start with me and my smart phone.

Troeh: So I am here at beautiful Santa Fe station, train station in San Diego, and I'm going to open my Car2Go app.

Car2Go is a car-sharing company owned by German automaker Daimler. San Diego, Calif. is one of a few U.S. cities where it operates. The app pings my location and available cars pop up on a map.

Troeh: I think this is the one I want...

The fleet of little white electric Smart Cars is scattered around town. Users leave the cars anywhere in the service area.

Troeh: Two thousand feet away from where I am, so I will walk toward it now.

And there I meet...

Omar Passons: My name is Omar Passons. I'm an attorney. My building is actually right behind us.

Omar has his own car. Drives it from home to his office every day. But he leaves his car at work and uses a Car2Go to scoot around downtown for meetings or lunch in Little Italy.

Passons: Quite frankly, I'm kind of a foodie. I don't have time normally at lunch to trudge 10 blocks up and hang out for an hour and trudge back.

Omar swipes an access card across a digital panel, the car unlocks and we climb in.

He pays 35 cents a minute, cheaper than a cab. And the city gives car sharing vehicles free parking at meters. No keys to exchange, the car starts with a push button. And the interior -- despite multiple users -- is spotless.

Passons: People who use Car2Go are surprisingly clean, which is cool.

Omar chalks that up to the social nature of Car2Go. People tweet constantly about using it. They "friend" other Car2Go-ers on Facebook.

Passons: There's something about that dynamic of our society right now, that makes Car2Go work better than it would otherwise.

That part is new-fangled and tech-y, but the pay-as-you-go model? That's old school -- very.

In 1916, an Omaha businessman placed this ad, and became the first to offer automobiles for hire.

Man reading an ad: Five-passenger Ford for rent, perfect running condition, nearly new. Will rent to any reliable party by hour, day, week or month. My charges are per mile, the only reasonable arrangement.

That "per mile, only reasonable arrangement" is an old way of doing things. Car2Go CEO Nicolas Cole says consumers are drawn back to it because Digital culture is all about efficiency.

Nicolas Cole: Where you used to go out to a record store and buy the CD, now you get online and you buy the songs you want. So you want to pay for what you're gonna use.

Apply that idea to owning a car, and all the hours or days you don't use your car are like the songs you never listen to on an album. When Christa Keizer moved to San Francisco, she found she barely used her car -- and racked up hundreds of dollars in parking tickets.

Christa Keizer: I was like, this is the city telling me I shouldn't have a car.

So she gave it up. Now when she needs a car for a few hours or a few days, she's found RelayRides. It lets her rent other people's cars.

Keizer: So enter in your dates and it's gonna tell you how far away these different cars are...

One she likes? A black 2005 Prius. the car is owned by Caterina Rindi. She lives a few miles away.

Troeh: So that's your car?

Caterina Rindi: Yep, that's my car, the Proton.

Troeh: Why is it called that?

Rindi: Because I'm a nerd, pretty much.

Caterina's RelayRides profile shows her with her car, called "The Proton," and user reviews. She makes a few hundred dollars a month, on average, renting out her Prius. When renter Christa requests that Prius, owner Caterina sees her profile too. That builds trusts.

But even good people get in accidents. Caterina says it takes a mental shift to share your car.

Rindi: I think I've let go of that "this is my baby" kind of thing. I treat it more as a tool, I think, than I used to.

Her car's been scraped up, left with a dead battery. But she says RelayRides takes care of that stuff. And, her belief in the idea of sharing outweighs any inconvenience.

Christa, the renter, says car sharing's piqued her interesting in sharing all kinds of things.

Keizer: I have a tennis racket, I have skis and ski boots. I'd be happy to lend these things to my neighbors.

It's not just technology, but the recession that's spurred this sharing economy.

Lisa Gansky: People are getting very rigorous about squeezing all the value out of what they have.

That's Lisa Gansky, author of "The Mesh," and a venture capitalist who's backed RelayRides, among other companies.

Gansky: We're moving to a world in which access to goods, services and talent will triumph over the ownership of them.

But there is pushback from insurance companies for one. Some are starting to say, if you rent out a car or house or other item that they cover, they're not going to share the burden with you, if the worst happens.

I'm Eve Troeh for Marketplace.

About the author

Eve Troeh is News Director at WWNO-FM in New Orleans, La., helping build the first public radio news department in the station’s 40-year history. She reported for the Marketplace Sustainability Desk from 2010 to 2013.

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