On a recent trip to San Francisco, I rented a car for four days. But not just any car. Somebody else's car. Somebody who was on a trip like me, except that while I was landing at SFO,this person was taking off or more likely was already gone. I'd have the car back long before the person needed it, or so went the plan.
FlightCar, the California startup behind all this, aims to be the Airbnb of rental cars. It began when Kevin Petrovic, then 18, had a striking realization when he was returning from a trip: Long-term parking was full of cars sitting idle while their outbound owners traveled, and in the next lot over a fleet of rental cars sat idle waiting for inbound travelers to pick them up. "We thought, 'Couldn't we make those two lots the same thing?' " said Petrovic, now 19, one of three teenagers behind FlightCar. He and the other two founders, Rujul Zaparde and Shri Ganeshram, put their college plans (MIT, Harvard and Princeton) on hold once they determined that the answer was yes.
The company, which is working to open its second location in Boston by the end of this month, depends on the idea that plenty of travelers would love to save on parking fees, even if it means that a stranger is driving their car while they're gone. On the renter's side, the company banks on the idea that travelers who need a car want a cheaper way, even if it means that the ride isn't brand new. To ease the worries of the former, FlightCar promises rigorous driving-record checks and up to $1 million in insurance, plus that parking-fee savings and a nominal payment (in the form of a gas card) of up to $20 a day for new, luxury cars. Drivers are limited to 90 miles a day (a per-mile fee buys you more) and a 12-day rental.