Cash Machine

How new technology makes a car (and commute) more valuable than ever.

Most cars sit idle for over 22 hours a day, taking up valuable real estate during business hours. These amazing machines were designed to perform at high speeds, and somehow they were demoted to driving in traffic for a couple hours a day. That seemed inefficient, so I decided to look for a better way.

For some background: I grew up in Texas and thought I would always need to own a car, since it was the way to get from place to place 99.9% of the time. When I moved to San Francisco, the rules had changed, and cars are not only less necessary, they’re more expensive. I sold the car and explored every available mode of transportation. I enjoyed getting to work by walking, biking, carpooling, or app-based ride services (full disclosure, I work for Lyft full-time). Despite the advantages of car-free living, I often needed a car on the weekends.

So in 2014, I decided to take the plunge back into car ownership — but this time would be different. If I was going to own a car, I would make sure it didn’t just sit around all the time that I wasn’t using it. And if I could make a little money on the side, even better.

The Shared Vehicle
Nothing about car ownership is cheap, and living in the most expensive city in America doesn’t make it any easier. If I was going to own a car in the city, I knew I should make it as cheap as possible using technology like Getaround (to rent the car to others) and Lyft (to give rides, often when going the same way). I expected to subsidize part of the cost of a car, but I ended up making a profit!

In the black.
The past year, using Getaround and Lyft (plus a few reimbursements), the car grossed $9958.68, compared to $9281.77 in expenses. I would have been happy with subsidizing the expenses, at least paying for parking and gas money. After a few months, I couldn’t believe how much money could be generated by other people using my car, and occasionally giving people rides.

Here are the specifics for the revenue and expenses:
Getaround: $7499.76
Lyft: $2191.38
Reimbursement: $267.54 (work trips and payback from road trips)

Car payment: $3138.13
Insurance: $1343.04
Parking: $1920
Maintenance: $1582.97
Fuel: $613.72
Getaround car kit: $240
Car Washes: $142.91
Tolls: $119
CA State Registration: $182

Some feedback from the experience:

People love renting my car. Getaround has phenomenal technology that allows people to rent the car without needing me to pass them a key. They don’t allow everyone to rent cars, and often reject users that do not have enough verification. This was valuable proof that the company will forgo revenue to create a better community of renters. Over the past year, my car brought in almost $600 per month (after Getaround takes their commission).

Driving for Lyft is fun. I rarely scheduled time to actually get out on the road to drive for Lyft, but if I was in my car and had a spare hour, it was a great way to make some money and meet new people. Sometimes passengers just sat in the back and had a chill ride, and others sat in the front and wanted to chat. I enjoyed giving tourists advice on what to do in San Francisco.

Your car commute can now be free. On the rare occasion that I drove to work, I would set my destination and only pick up Lyft passengers heading the same way. This didn’t match with passengers every time, but often enough to keep doing it. This accounts for the majority of my Lyft revenue in 2015. If you observe any morning rush hour heading toward downtown, the carpool lane is the fastest, and sometimes empty (looking at you, Dallas, TX). While most people are addicted to the freedom of driving alone, I get paid to drive with a passenger in the direction I’m already going.

I want to be clear that this experience was not all rainbows and unicorns. There were renters that left trash in the car and Lyft passengers that received low ratings, but these experiences were very rare, and didn’t shake my confidence that the systems can work. I knew I wouldn’t be paired with those users again, and the feedback would be considered if the users should be taken off the platform completely, so other Getaround owners and Lyft drivers wouldn’t have the same experience. In the past, there was no repercussions if someone was a jerk to a cab driver or trashed a rental car. These new feedback systems provide an incentive to not be an ass.

I bought a car knowing that it would be a shared vehicle. Before I took ownership, I tried to adopt the attitude of not worrying about other people driving it. Getaround unlocked the potential of my car, giving others access when I didn’t need it, and Lyft helped fill the empty seats when people were going the same way. Having access to my car allowed my neighbors to avoid car ownership and everything that comes with it (insurance, maintenance, parking, etc).

As we become dependent on vehicles, they are viewed as a burden, rather than a blessing of added mobility in life. Jeff Speck captured the current situation by saying “The automobile is a servant that has become a master. For 60 years, it has been the single dominant factor in the shaping of our cities.” America can’t (and shouldn’t) give up driving overnight, but there are several societal shifts happening. More households are moving to owning one car, rather than each person having their own vehicle. Young Americans are delaying getting their drivers licenses, and urban environments are becoming magnets for college graduates. Depending on where they grow up and go to school, these people could avoid car ownership until their 20s or beyond!

I understand that sharing at this level might not be for everyone (even though the movement is gaining traction). To implement, it doesn’t take 100% participation, rather, just a community of people who are willing to try something different to make a big impact. My car works for me, and I hope it stays that way.

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