As ridesharing has gained traction in LA as a supplemental income source, one segment of the workforce has been feeling left out: those without a ride to share. Los Angeles-based startup Evercar is attempting to fill that void with an eco-friendly twist. So far, the results have been immensely positive despite regulatory motions that threaten to derail rideshare rentals altogether.
Launched in August 2015, Evercar is a car rental service that manages a fleet of electric (EV) and hybrid vehicles equipped and registered for rideshare driving with Uber, Lyft, and even Postmates. The vehicles can be rented at an hourly rate. As of now, one hundred percent of rentals have been used for ridesharing.
According to CEO Michael Brylawski, “Evercar views itself as being a tool for the driver… Our goal is to deal with the complexity on the back end so the driver can focus on driving.”
The back end Brylawski is referring to includes fuel (or charge), registration, vehicle maintenance, cleaning, comprehensive insurance, and even some analytical support, packaged in the form of a weekly email called Evercar Coach that provides data and trends aimed to help drivers identify the best times and places to drive.
The company has five active lots between Downtown LA and Santa Monica and a total of 42 vehicles available for rent. Of those, 30 are EV Nissan Leafs, and the other twelve are Toyota Priuses. Not bad for a company that launched only eight months ago with a fleet of five cars. The EVs rent at $5 an hour (the Priuses $7), a fee that covers all of those back end costs with no cap on mileage.
Five bucks an hour might be dirt cheap by car rental standards, but in an industry like ridesharing where the hourly pay ranges from $5 to $30 depending on time of day and luck (good or bad), it can be the difference between a decent income and a net loss. To this Brylawski contends that not only is $5 an hour a realistic cost of operating a personal gas-powered vehicle, but renting an EV from Evercar is likely even cheaper.
“You’re probably burning a gallon an hour [driving for Uber in your personal car], so that’s already half the five dollars, not to mention wear and tear,” Brylawski explains.
He has a point. The real cost of ridesharing has been a matter of debate in the community since the service began. Using the IRS standard reimbursement of $0.56 per mile to estimate the real cost of operating a gas vehicle, many have argued that the average hourly pay for driving Uber or Lyft could really be as low as $7 an hour. New drivers are slow to accept this reality until of course they are hit with a $1,000 car repair bill 30,000 miles into the gig.
Evercar aims to relieve drivers of those looming, mysterious, and hard-to-calculate operational costs, but no less significant is the insurance coverage it offers. It is no secret that most rideshare drivers operate “under the radar”, neglecting to inform their personal insurance providers that they are using their vehicles for commercial purposes. This has been recognized as the “elephant in the room” risk of ridesharing: The vast majority of auto insurance providers would reject any claim linked to a business-related accident. They might even cancel the driver’s plan for being in violation of the terms. Uber and Lyft offer coverage for scenarios in which there was a passenger in the vehicle, but it is the gray area between rides where drivers are most vulnerable. By providing this buffer of secondary coverage for drivers, Evercar removes the most serious risks presented by the ridesharing model and offers drivers a peace of mind that has up to now been only partially addressed by various regulatory measures and third party ventures (such as startup insurance provider Metromile).
Despite Brylawski’s contention that “ubering” in an Evercar is probably cheaper than using your own vehicle, the service seems most economical for individuals who do not own vehicles eligible for ridesharing. Nevertheless, Brylawski estimates that around half of Evercar’s current renters do in fact own personal vehicles, many of which are junkers or gas guzzlers.
Experienced drivers are likely to imagine plenty of logistical complications associated with a service that requires renters to commit to a specific block of time. What do you do when you are into the last hour of your shift and your last ride takes you another hour away from your drop-off location? Referring to his own driver data, Brylawksi points out that such occurrences are extremely rare, but Evercar typically schedules an hour buffer between reservations with a generous grace period for late returns.
Also of concern is the limited mileage range of current EV models. The electric Nissan Leaf has a maximum range of only 82 miles, which by Brylawksi’s own estimate might only cover three and a half hours of driving. Evercar has a solution for that as well. As part of their on-boarding process, all renters are provided with a free app that will navigate them to the nearest charging station, the cost of which is covered on a company account, and the half hour spent charging the vehicle is deducted from the total rental fee. As for the “power drivers” seeking to clock 8-12 hour shifts, the Prius might be the better option.
Evercar is seeing rapid growth in Los Angeles County, with 500 new applications pouring in weekly. The company is currently in the process of opening a second lot in Hollywood and hopes to increase its fleet by 1,000 before the end of the year.
Meanwhile, the fate of the rideshare rental business model itself is under threat, as the California Public Utilities Commission meets today to consider passing a rule that would restrict rideshare driving to personal vehicles or cars leased for a minimum of four months. Evercar is sure to fight this measure literally to the death, but it will have a formidable ally: Uber, whose own car rental partnership with Enterprise would possibly be banned if such a measure were to pass. This is will certainly not be the first time the tech giant has butted heads with the government, so it would be premature to write off Evercar’s success just yet.