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In the last several years, the notion of car and bike sharing has begun to take hold in major American cities. Services such as Zipcar, Uber, and Lyft have become important parts of this growing, shared economy. The beauty is in its simplicity: Passengers get the use of an automobile without the hassle of owning a car note and paying for insurance, parking and gas.
But as NPR's Sonari Glinton reports, car sharing isn't just about the ride.
SONARI GLINTON, BYLINE: About three years ago was when the car sharing movement really took off.
SUSAN SHAHEEN: When it seemed that there were many more business models emerging, many more entrants, a lot more investment money and a lot more disruption.
GLINTON: That's Susan Shaheen. She's been studying the sharing economy for two decades. And now she teaches and studies transportation sharing at the University of California, Berkeley.
SHAHEEN: Access versus ownership. With time, people will start to understand that access trumps ownership because it gives you a lot a freedom and flexibility and choice, without a lot of the hassles associated with ownership, including high, fixed costs.
GLINTON: Think about it. Three or four years ago, we were coming out of the economic collapse, smartphones were seriously mainstream, your grandma was getting on Facebook. It was kind of like the perfect storm or many little perfect storms. People didn't have the money to own but they wanted access. And then, Shaheen says, entrepreneurs began to solve one of the central problems of sharing your ride.
SHAHEEN: Getting in a car with someone you don't know has been considered a barrier to ride sharing and car pooling for a very long time.
ERIN KELLY MEYERS: I promise I'm a safe driver. Actually, I'm proud to say I've been driving for 28 years without an accident. So tonight is definitely not the night, good sir. My car, Little Sexy, confirms that.
GLINTON: I didn't know Erin Kelly Meyers when I first got into her car just outside of NPR West in Culver City and yes, you heard it right - she's named her new Honda Accord Little Sexy - that's a new one. She's a driver for the car sharing service Lyft.
MEYERS: Lyft is a part of the new sharing economy. It's an app driven peer-to-peer ride sharing app. And it is distinctively different from a lot of other services because we are donation based.
GLINTON: The app, which is available in 18 cities suggests a donation when the ride is done. And you can choose to pay the donation or not. The passenger rates the driver and the driver gets to rate the passenger. The drivers and the passengers get to screen each other before either accepts a ride so if you won't be a jerk, then they won't be jerks. It's kind of an agreement and both of you build up a reputation over time.
MEYERS: Hey girl.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Thank you so much.
MEYERS: Oh, you're welcome. And where can I take you tonight?
GLINTON: We picked up Catalina Lee at her office after work and took her home. As we drove across Los Angeles, she says the reason she takes a car share home is not just because she's tired.
CATALINA LEE: I only mingle with a certain kind of group, and I don't really get to explore different ways people think or - it's just interesting to hear about it. That's why, so it's pretty cool.
GLINTON: Now when you talk to people like Erin Meyers or her passengers, or people in food co-ops or any other number of shared economies, it is not about the transactions, necessarily. It's about the community.
MEYERS: I definitely feel like I'm a part of the fabric and the core of the city now like I never was before. I was very insular and isolated before in my own little social circle and my own little neighborhood and stuff like that. But L.A. can be big and foreboding if you allow it to be.
GLINTON: The transportation expert that I talked to at the top of this piece, Susan Shaheen, says there wasn't always the technology to create these smaller communities in and around any number of economic transactions. Now, there is. Car sharing, she says, it's just beginning. Sonari Glinton, NPR News, Culver City.
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