On Tuesday, Wheelz launched its car sharing service to the general public in San Francisco, its hometown. This is a rollout of technology that allows motorists to unlock another driver’s vehicle with an app on their smartphone. The company is joining several other services, like Lyft, Uber and SideCar, in a bid to reshape ride sharing and public transit by using smartphone technology.
Wheelz has actually been in operation since January of last year at selected colleges, but now it’s expanding its service to the general public for the first time, starting with around 50 vehicles. The company will be competing with startups RelayRides and Getaround in the California city. However, Wheelz says the difference is that it tries to make the process more seamless, as custom-designed technology is installed in the vehicles to allow renters to find and drive without having to meet the vehicle owner to get the keys.
To better explain, a Drive-Box is installed under the dash of an owner’s vehicle. This box is enabled with GPS and tracks when the vehicle is rented, returned and parked. It also plugs into the car’s door-lock system so customers can unlock the vehicle via the Wheelz smartphone app. An identity card is used to unlock the car, while the company is working on a Bluetooth version that will get rid of the sensor being installed on the windscreen.
People who are renting with Wheelz will also be registered to the network, a process in which their identity and driving record is verified. The car owners can review the potential renter on Wheelz’s website and through Facebook. They also have the option to decline a person they may not want driving their vehicle. A rating system has also been developed so renters who have accidents or don’t keep the cars clean may not be able to rent in the future.
The Wheelz smartphone app locates the nearest vehicle available and books a reservation. The car horn can be set off as well using the “Dude, where’s my car” button to help the renter find it. A spare key is left in the globe box with a kit that includes papers to prove a $1 million insurance policy and a fuel charge card.
Wheelz co-founder and chief executive Jeff Miller says that they allow people to turn their vehicles into an income-generating asset while they are parked, and without any real effort. This helps car owners pay for the cost of maintenance and whatnot. They believe the future of transport is travellers having everything at their fingertips – aka their phones and other mobile devices.
He continued that cars used to be what people bought to really display who they are – they were a part of people’s identities. He doesn’t think this is the case anymore, as people are now using their Facebook page, phones, the MacBook Pro and the other devices they take with them everywhere.
Miller added that car sharing is an economically responsible decision and societally beneficial choice. Car owners are listing their vehicles for rent at between $5 to $25 per hour. Those who own vehicles like a BMW 7 Series are, of course, able to charge more. Additionally, their $1 million insurance policy includes a $500 deductible that gives the renter a big incentive to really care for the car they are borrowing, which is important.