Would you loan your neighbor the keys to your car?

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The Independent Travel

An upcoming vote in the Californian Legislative Council could be about to take personal vehicle sharing mainstream in the US, just as a new service based on the concept is launched in Britain.

Car sharing has started to boom in Europe and the US, mainly through schemes that involve a monthly subscription to a dedicated car sharing company.

But a nonprofit organization called City CarShare in California says that "personal vehicle sharing" is the way forward, allowing neighbors to share their personal vehicles to widen the appeal even further. Everything hangs on the passing of a bill due for first review this week.

Assembly Bill 1871, which is set for a hearing on May 5, will ensure that car owners do not invalidate their private insurance by sharing their car publicly for a small sum of money; thereby paving the way for the small sharing networks in the state to take off.

"Owning a car can be expensive and vehicle sharing programs are a great way to help connect people with cars when they need them," said Assembly member Dave Jones, who introduced the bill.

"Individual car owners who do not use their vehicles for extended periods of time should be able to share their vehicles in vehicle sharing programs without the risk of losing their individual car insurance."

Sunil Paul, CEO of car sharing company Spride, which hopes to commercialize the programs, has big plans for a neighborhood car-sharing future.

"We want to replace your car with a cell phone and personal vehicle sharing is a major step toward that goal," he explains. "Imagine cars available to share on every block that can be found and accessed with a cell phone."

Last week on the other side of the Atlantic, a new service launched in London with a similar plan.

WhipCar claims that it is the world's first neighbor-to-neighbor car rental service, allowing drivers to rent out their cars for money.

The service, which is free to join,  essentially matches car owners with vetted car users, allowing members to negotiate rates and book through a web interface. It gets around the insurance issue under debate in California by temporarily replacing the owner's existing insurance with a comprehensive package for the duration of the hire.

"The cost of owning a car and the amount of time it's left unused, makes it a person's most valuable idle asset," says WhipCar's Vinay Gupta. "Simply put, WhipCar enables car owners to put their cars to work, and for those in need of a car, they can literally rent the car next door."