If people want to rent out their cars, good luck to them.
Inevitably, there will have to be rules of the road for this new business, which is called peer-to-peer car sharing, but government should butt in as little as possible.
The big car rental agencies, fearing the competition, will howl, but this looks to us like a classic case of free enterprise at work.
Peer-to-peer car sharing is an idea that is still unproven, but appears to be catching on. Using apps from such companies as Getaround, individuals can earn a little extra money by renting out their personal cars, which otherwise sit in driveways or parked on the street most of the time.
Meanwhile, people who just want a car to go grocery shopping once a week or who have a sudden need for a four-wheel-drive vehicle or a stylish car for a fun weekend can find one through the apps.
Even General Motors is getting into the act, announcing a peer-to-peer test project last week for Chicago and two other cities. The largest peer-to-peer company, California-based Turo, has 250,000 cars available for renting around the world, 6,600 of them in Illinois, where 233,000 users have signed up.
But Michelle Peacock, Turo’s head of government relations, says the Illinois Legislature stripped the wording out of a minor bill just 2½ weeks before the end of the spring session and substituted regulations that put peer-to-peer car sharing at a disadvantage. If the bill becomes law, people who rent out their cars will have to pay all the fees and taxes that full-fledged auto rental companies do but without the large tax breaks the big companies get. No one in the industry, Peacock said, even had a chance to comment on the bill.
Joseph P. Schwieterman, director of DePaul University’s Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development, said rushing a bill through without taking time to think it over carefully was a bad idea. Peer-to-peer car sharing holds the promise of reducing car ownership in cities and cutting back on the vast amount of space needed to park all those cars.
Moreover, the bill includes a 5 percent tax on peer-to-peer car sharing, and once government has a new tax, it is loath to give it up, he said. Already, Chicago is in the upper quartile for taxes on car rentals, according to a recent Chaddick study.
Auto rental companies are rightly concerned about how peer-to-peer car sharing might affect their business. But that’s not a reason to kneecap new ideas. Transportation is a field that is morphing rapidly, and the best ideas need a chance to prevail.
Gov. Bruce Rauner should veto this hurried bill and give all sides a chance to seek the best way forward.
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