FlightCar brings peer-to-peer car sharing to Logan
Tired of paying to park at the airport? If you don’t mind letting a stranger drive your car while you’re gone, you could make money instead — and even get a free car wash.
That’s the idea behind FlightCar, a new car-sharing business set to start operating at Logan International Airport at the end of the month. The San Francisco-based company, started by three teenagers earlier this year, plans to rent departing airline passengers’ cars out of an East Boston parking lot. If someone rents a car, the owner gets a cut of the earnings — $10 per day for newer cars — as well as a free car wash and ride to the airport in a Lincoln Town Car.
If no one rents the car, well, the parking is still free.
Modeled after Airbnb, the company that rents out rooms in people’s houses, FlightCar is part of the so-called sharing economy, in which people offer tools, bicycles, and other belongings to strangers for a fee. FlightCar founders know most people aren’t comfortable letting someone they don’t know drive their car — 80 percent wouldn’t do it, according to FlightCar’s informal poll of San Francisco airport passengers. But, said chief executive Rujul Zaparde, “Twenty percent is enough.”
FlightCar launched at the San Francisco airport in February and has had about 650 cars listed for rent and 1,000 reservations booked. There have been a few scratches and minor accidents — all covered by the company’s insurance — but no thefts, Zaparde said.
Jim Newton of Redwood City, Calif., estimates he’s saved a few hundred dollars in parking by turning his Ford Expedition over to FlightCar while away on business. “It’s a little weird to give your baby to someone,” he admitted, but he likes that FlightCar is a “disruptive little company” that challenges the traditional rental market.
It hasn’t been a seamless beginning. San Francisco International Airport has issued FlightCar three cease-and-desist orders because the company hasn’t applied for a permit. Zaparde said his company doesn’t have to be licensed by the airport because it uses an airport-authorized car service to pick up and drop off customers and doesn’t rely solely on the airport for customers.
FlightCar doesn’t have a permit at Logan either, airport officials said, where the parking lots are often overflowing. The company faces an additional hurdle here because ground transportation companies at the airport aren’t allowed to ferry rental car customers.
Zaparde, 18, started the company with Shri Ganeshram, 19, and his Princeton, N.J., childhood friend Kevin Petrovic, 18 — the three dropped out of or delayed attendance at Harvard, MIT, and Princeton, respectively. In the beginning, they were using Airbnb to rent the back room of a San Francisco couple’s home because they couldn’t afford their own place.
But with the help of a start-up accelerator, they raised $5.5 million in the span of a few weeks in April. Investors include General Catalyst Partners, a Cambridge venture capital firm, and “American Idol” host Ryan Seacrest, as well as Airbnb cofounder Brian Chesky.
The shared economy that FlightCar has tapped into is thriving. The San Francisco car sharing company RelayRides, for example, founded in Cambridge, has expanded from two cities to 1,500 in the past year, increasing its fleet and reservations by 500 percent. RelayRides arranges for people not using their cars to rent them to neighbors who need a vehicle for a few hours.
Collaborative consumption like this is an efficient, empowering experience that makes sense because people often only need a bass amplifier or a surfboard for a short time, said Juanjuan Zhang, a marketing professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management. These peer-to-peer transactions, in which people rent items directly from one another, are propelled by online social networks that help alleviate distrust of strangers and easily connect those who need with those who have.
FlightCar insures each car for up to $1 million and will either fix any damage incurred or reimburse the owner, and supply a loaner car if needed. It also performs a three-year driving record check on renters and rules out anyone with major infractions such as drunk driving or with more than two minor accidents or speeding violations. Eighteen-year-olds can rent from FlightCar but must have a clean record and at least two years of driving experience.
Renters are limited to 90 miles a day and will probably get a less pristine car than from a traditional company — FlightCar accepts models as old as 1999, with up to 150,000 miles — but the price is right. At Logan during the week, a 2007 Toyota Camry from FlightCar will rent for $31 a day; at Hertz, a Toyota Corolla is $80 a day.
Still, FlightCar’s founders know many people are very particular about their vehicles. During the parking-lot shuttle polls at the San Francisco airport, Zaparde found that some people’s attitudes were: “Take it, whatever, I don’t care.” But most were in the “You’re not going to touch it, my wife doesn’t drive it”camp.
Count Sidra Coleman of Nahant in the latter category.
“For me, a car is as personal an extension of space as my house is,” said Coleman, 62, who drives a 2012 Jeep Patriot. “I wouldn’t want strangers driving my car any more than I’d want one sleeping in my bed.”