British Columbia

Turo car-sharing company aiming to expand to Canada

A U.S. company that allows people to rent out their vehicles in the same way that Airbnb customers do with their homes is hoping to expand to Canada, says its CEO.

Insurance rules north of the border likely to be a significant obstacle to company's expansion

Turo is a car-sharing service that allows people to rent their vehicles to strangers for a fee. (Stephen Parsey/Turo)

A U.S. company that allows people to rent out their vehicles in the same way that Airbnb customers do with their homes is hoping to expand to Canada, says its CEO. 

San Francisco-based company Turo, formerly known as RelayRides, allows participants to rent out their car to strangers for a fee. It's currently operating in more than 2,500 cities across the U.S.

"Certainly Canada is in the top list of priorities for us," said CEO Andre Haddad. "We already have a lot of Canadian users who have travelled from Canada to the United States and have used Turo."

On its website, the company says it offers cheaper rates than typical car-rental agencies. As for car owners, it says they make about $600 a month, on average.

"It's a significant earning opportunity for people who have cars that they don't use all the time," he said.

Marc-David Seidel, an associate professor at UBC's Sauder School of Business, said the ability to generate extra cash will be the driving factor to motivate Canadians to share their cars, but he feels the allure of Turo is more than that.

"There's the possibility that they enjoy sharing because they get to meet someone who's enthusiastic about a particular type of car," he said. 

On its website, the company offers more than 800 makes and models of vehicles at a broad price range — from Aston Martins for $300 a day to Honda Civic for $23 a day. 

Insurance roadblock?

Turo covers vehicles with up to $1 million of liability insurance to protect car owners against lawsuits for injuries and property damage.

But the company has run into a roadblock in New York State — it had to suspend operations there because of a dispute over state laws. 

"Innovation, by its nature, doesn't always fit within existing structures," wrote Haddad in a blog post.

Haddad said he's planning to avoid any of those types of issues in Canada.

"Of course we want to make sure that that coverage is compatible with Canadian insurance laws, and of course that takes time," he said. 

Motor Vehicle Acts vary from province to province. In B.C., MVA rules say the owner of a car "must be held liable for any contravention" involving their vehicle. 

This was recently demonstrated in a provincial court case involving a road rage incident at a Tim Hortons drive-through where the car owner was fined, despite the fact that it was never proven she was behind the wheel at the time of the incident.

The only exceptions are if the car was stolen or if they exercised "reasonable care and diligence" when they entrusted the car to someone else.

ICBC, the insurance provider in British Columbia, said it was too early for it to provide any comment on whether or not the company would be allowed to operate in the province.

Competitive car-sharing market

If Turo does manage to make its way north, it will be facing a blossoming car-sharing market. 

Car2Go offers one-way car rentals and charges by the minute. (Robson Fletcher/CBC)

Car2Go operates its fleet of white and blue Smart cars in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto and Montreal, allowing drivers to rent them at rates that break down by the minute.

ZipCar, operated by Avis, operates in six cities across Canada, offering a variety of car types. 

And in Vancouver, there is also the BCAA-operated car-sharing service Evo and the car-sharing cooperative Modo

For those who prefer to have someone else drive, Uber operates in eight Canadian cities in Ontario and Quebec. 

With files from Meera Bains


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