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A Web Solution for Real Life: P2P Car Sharing

“Pick an idea the world will want in ten years,” boasts the headline of a recent article detailing the rise of car sharing service Getaround. Forget ten years – China needs such a service now. With an increasingly large percentage of their 20+ million citizens having the inclination and the funds to buy a car, megacities like Beijing have had to resort to license plate-awarding lottery systems that only allow 1 in 32 prospective buyers to actually purchase a vehicle. But, even with such limiting measures, the amount of congestion in the streets (and, as I can attest after a recent visit, the parking lots) is enormous. In today’s world, where fast, distance-capable transportation is more and more becoming a necessity, how do we balance our needs against negatives such as congestion, cost, and pollution?

The purpose of owning a car isn’t to simply possess a car; it’s to have access to a fast method of transportation. Traditionally, public transit has been the most popular alternative, especially outside the US. However, buses and subways have their drawbacks: namely, slow or unreliable service (MBTA, I’m looking at you!) and unflexible, inconvenient schedules. More recently, carpooling has gained prominence, but usage of this method is limited by the flow of information – in order to join a carpool, you have to know about the carpool; very rarely have I heard of a carpool that wasn’t composed of friends, neighbors, or coworkers. Car borrowing, meanwhile, has the same limitation: you can only borrow a car from a friend or relative who you know won’t be needing it for a while.

Getaround addresses the accessibility issues of car borrowing by serving as the intermediary between customers who otherwise share no connection. The concept behind the company is simple: members with cars that sit idle for hours or days on end use the site to lend them out to members who need a ride. Using classroom vocabulary, Getaround is the weak tie bringing  its users new, useful information about potential car sharing. Users are no longer limited to the information available directly through their immediate social network, and instead are introduced to an entire online community full of rental possibilities. Naturally, with this much larger pool of candidates to choose from, renters and owners both have much more success in finding a satisfactory match. And, unlike Craigslist with its rideshare section, Getaround is an acquaintance who can verify and vouch for the other user’s identity through the application, reviews, and ratings systems.

The other trick that should make Getaround the darling of the startup world is the fact that it is a uniquely sustainable system of transportation. Unlike the traditional one-driver-one-car model, where an increase in users directly correlates with an increase in undesirable traits such as pollution and congregation, or even other car share services, whose fixed fleets of cars physically limit the number of users at any given moment, Getaround only benefits as more and more users join the program, increasing the pools of available cars and sharing partners. This positive cycle has the potential to make the company – though trite as any expression less than five years old can be – the “Facebook” of the transportation world.

– Wily14


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September 2012