Saturday, August 20, 2005

Some thoughts about informal carsharing

Informal carsharing between family members, friends and neighbors has been happening ever since cars were invented. It's received some new attention with the advent of people wanting to experiment with biodiesel. It hasn't received much attention in the carsharing community, which has focused more on organized (commercial and non-profit) operations. Certainly, whatever benefits we assume there will be for organized carsharing should apply to this informal type. Here's my 2¢ for people thinking about sharing a car.

To make it work, you'll need to address:
• Vehicle insurance
• Vehicle cleaning and maintenance
• A way to schedule the vehicle(s) and
• Track and allocate costs

Insurance - Some insurance agents will write a personal auto policy covering several non-related people, such as might be written for a group household. A little more protection from lawsuits might be obtained by creating a corporation (LLC's are easy to operate) to own the vehicle and carry the insurance. Standard carsharing fleet insurance is about $150 per month, so would probably be quite a bit more expensive than a personal auto policy for a small group.

Scheduling the vehicle can be as simple as a clip board on a nail in a garage. Cooperative Auto Network in Canada is offering free use of their scheduling system for groups with up to 10 cars. Email Tracey Axelsson of CAN for info. Or if you're clever with the internet, you could probably figure something out something with Outlook scheduling system.

The ignition key could be placed in a basic lockbox available at any locksmith, mounted near the car or even a window mounted model made by Supra/GE Security. They also make a fancier model, the Elante that can be mounted in the trunk or behind a flip-up rear license plate holder.

Usage could be tracked by a simple log book in the car. An Excel guru in the group will probably end up being responsible for compiling the usage and expenses and doing the billing.

A procedure for maintaining the vehicle should include both cleaning the interior and exterior, as well as scheduled maintenance (oil changes), tires and repair of body damage. This could be on a rotating basis of all participants or the most anal person in the group might do it and gets usage credit for their time. Out of pocket costs would be allocated as described below.

Rates - here's a fun topic for several evenings of discussion over beer or something stronger! Most commercial carsharing groups charge for hours and miles - typically assigning the the hourly charges against the cost of owning the vehicle and the mileage charges against the costs of operating the vehicle (gas, repairs, etc.) Of course, if a vehicle is being donated to the "club", the owners will certainly want some sort of compensation.

In an informal situation, I'd suggest that people be responsible for filling up the gas tank whenever the gauge shows 1/4 or less and that amount spent should be deducted from the monthly charges.

Your agreement with fellow car sharers will need to be clear about who's responsible for paying for damage (and the associated deductible if an insurance claim is filed) in the case of accidents. In addition, repair of dents and dings, which will inevitably appear while the car is parked, is another area you'll need to allocated (per household or in proportion to the usage).

And you'll probably want to develop some penalties that cover if a person inconveniences another by deciding they want to keep using a vehicle longer than they originally signed up for; if they return a vehicle late, or dirty.

In the UK, CarPlus, the national group promoting carsharing (called "car clubs" over there to distinguish them from carpools), has produced a short report on informal carsharing. Although it includes specific information about insurance and taxation issues in the UK, it's worth taking a look at and can be downloaded at the LINK below.

If anyone is doing this informal carsharing, please post a comment below. Thanks.