November 23, 2016 Updated: November 23, 2016 3:35pm
They rented through City CarShare, a San Francisco nonprofit that was the Bay Area pioneer in car sharing — hourly rentals of vehicles from dispersed locations. Its wheelchair-accessible vans cost about $12 an hour, a significant savings for short trips compared with the $140 a day that traditional rental companies charge, Bednarska said.
This month City CarShare transferred its fleet to Getaround, a privately held startup that arranges hourly rentals of people’s personal cars.
The companies said the deal would be great for City CarShare members. But the accessible vans didn’t get transferred. Instead, Bednarska said, she received an email that they’d been “decommissioned” and a reservation she’d made months ago was canceled.
At the same time, some City CarShare members said they were dismayed by the abrupt transition and by some Getaround policies, such as requiring all renters to have Facebook profiles and to refill gas tanks. Their discontent underscores the culture clash of a merger, one that’s exacerbated when a nonprofit joins with a for-profit.
A source close to City CarShare said the BART grant that helped purchase the vans barred others from operating them. In the Getaround deal, City CarShare is retaining ownership of its existing fleet, but offering them for rentals only through Getaround’s app.
“I want to (donate) these vehicles to an organization that can service the community with them,” said Lawrence Mulligan, acting CEO of City CarShare.
Berkeley’s Center for Independent Living and Easy Does It Emergency Services are two agencies City CarShare has approached, the source said.
“There are not good alternatives” for wheelchair users to rent cars, said Marilyn Golden, senior policy analyst at the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund. A wheelchair user herself, she rented accessible vans from City CarShare many times.
“I hope that the vehicles go to a place that will continue to let people rent them short-term,” Golden said. “I have to really question why (Getaround) didn’t take them. It opens up the issue of illegal discrimination.”
Other aspects of the deal are also stirring controversy.
Getaround relies on Facebook to verify owners’ and renters’ identities, in addition to drivers’ licenses. But some City CarShare members don’t have and don’t want Facebook.
“I don’t really see why they can’t just transfer the account of proven customers,” said Jeffrey DeLeo of San Francisco, who with his wife has used City CarShare about once a week since 2014. He noted that many sites allow multiple verification options, including site-specific user names/passwords. When Lyft created its ride-hailing app, it required a Facebook account, but it now allows for logins with a phone number.
Getaround members log in with Facebook, Mulligan said, so a different system would require extensive engineering. Getaround said: “Our team has heard the feedback regarding additional sign-in options and is looking at adding other authentication channels.”
Another complaint: Initially CarShare users couldn’t find vehicles they were accustomed to renting, both because some were offline and because Getaround’s system showed vehicles by distance rather than a map. Getaround said it has now added a map. Some CarShare vehicles were sidelined while technicians installed hardware to allow a smartphone to unlock them.
Some City CarShare members said they valued the nonprofit for its environmental focus and doubted whether a for-profit would have similar values, although Getaround also sees its mission as reducing car ownership.
“I’m feeling abandoned and confused” by the abrupt transition, said David Fairley, a City CarShare user since its founding 15 years ago. He and wife Pam sold their car in 1993 to reduce their contributions to global warming. City CarShare was their go-to for school field trips, hauling stuff to the dump and moving their son to UC Davis. “I liked City CarShare specifically because it was a nonprofit,” he said.
He dislikes Getaround’s policy that requires topping off the gas tank for each rental, because it’s time-consuming. The company said it is “actively working on rolling out a gas solution for all Getaround vehicles.” City CarShare required that cars be refilled with a half tank, and paid for gas as part of the rental.
Mulligan said Getaround rentals cost less overall. “Free membership and no mileage charges massively outweighs the inconvenience of having to go to the gas station,” he said.
Getaround said that thousands of City CarShare members had transferred their accounts. The nonprofit had about 20,000 active members.
“We understand that despite our best efforts and planning, some City CarShare members have not found the transition to be as smooth as we had hoped,” Getaround said. “We are here to listen and support the community through this transition however we can.”
Carolyn Said is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @csaid