Share story

An app-based service letting people rent their cars by the hour launched in Seattle last week as part of the growing attempts to innovate traditional means of getting around.

Paul Erlandson, the general manager of Getaround in Seattle and Portland, said the service is intended for trips short, long and everything in between, and for traveling to local hiking spots or carrying bags of groceries — situations where transit has difficulty reaching or is challenging to navigate.

Unlike other car-sharing services, such as ReachNow, Zipcar and Car2Go, Getaround does not add a fleet of cars to the streets. Instead, the service adopts a system where renters use existing cars that would be otherwise dormant — like a commuter who takes public transit and leaves his or her car at home for eight to 10 hours a day.

Traffic Lab is a Seattle Times project that digs into the region’s thorny transportation issues, spotlights promising approaches to easing gridlock, and helps readers find the best ways to get around. It is funded with the help of community sponsors Alaska Airlines, CenturyLink, Kemper Development Co., NHL Seattle, PEMCO Mutual Insurance Company, Sabey Corp., Seattle Children’s hospital and Ste. Michelle Wine Estates. Seattle Times editors and reporters operate independently of our funders and maintain editorial control over Traffic Lab content.

Learn more about Traffic Lab » | Follow us on Twitter »

In that scenario, transit acts as a complement, not a competitor, with Getaround. Researchers from the University of California, Davis, in 2017 found that 61 percent of trips using ride-hailing apps Uber and Lyft would not have been made or people would have walked, biked or used transit.

Most Read Local Stories

Unlimited Digital Access. $1 for 4 weeks.

Getaround relies on a level of trust between the renter and owner similar to the way Airbnb, an app-based marketplace where people rent short-term lodging, functions.

Owners can activate an “enhanced security mode” within the app, Erlandson said, that offers additional protection.

Facebook is used to verify the identity of owners and renters and make sure there aren’t “bad actors” using the system, Erlandson said. There is not a way to use Getaround without using Facebook to sign up, which Erlandson knows could be a sticking point for some potential users.

“We’ve heard that feedback,” Erlandson said. “We’re listening to those concerns and working on a solution.”

Cars are accessed using a remote locking system within the app connecting with a device installed under the owner’s steering wheel. Getaround also only allows round-trip travel that returns the car back to the owner at its pickup spot.

In exchange for sharing their car, owners receive compensation per hour their vehicle is in use, based on a pricing algorithm determined by the year, make and model of the vehicle, the part of town in which the car is located and the day of the week an owner is offering.

An older sedan might cost renters $5 to $7 per hour; a new Tesla might cost $30 to $35 per hour. The average ride costs about $6 or $7 per hour and owners receive 60 percent of the rental fee and Getaround takes 40 percent, Erlandson said.

Nathan Brodell listed his 2014 Subaru Crosstrek on the platform in March. He lives in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood and takes a King County Metro bus downtown for his job, using his car mostly for weekend getaways.

His car is rented about four times per week, sometimes for several hours at a time. Brodell said he makes about $800 per month and made $300 over Memorial Day weekend.

“I’ll be honest, I was a little nervous at first,” Brodell said. “But there hasn’t been an issue, and I don’t have to do anything to make money.”

To meet the requirements for renting, cars must have been made in 2005 or later and have less than 125,000 miles on them. Cars that have more than 75,000 miles receive a mechanical inspection.

Owners are protected under an insurance policy that is included in the fee for renters. During a trip, the car owner is not liable or responsible for any potential damage.

Before each trip, renters are prompted to take photos of the exterior and interior of the vehicle, noting any damage.

The app also allows owners and renters to leave comments about their experiences, which are sent to the “customer happiness team” for review.

Getaround launched in 2009 in San Francisco and has since expanded to other metro areas including Chicago, Boston, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, Portland and the New Jersey cities of Jersey City, Hoboken and Weehawken.

Erlandson said there are more than 2,000 car owners using the platform in San Francisco.

Since its “soft launch” in Seattle about one month ago, Erlandson said about 50 cars have been on-boarded on the platform in downtown, Capitol Hill, Queen Anne, Interbay, Ballard and the University District, and about 1,000 people have signed up to rent.

Getaround plans to expand into South Seattle neighborhoods and east into Bellevue this summer.