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Today, TPG Contributor (and pro photographer) Patrick T. Fallon shares his experience with a new app in Santa Monica, California, which offers drivers the allure of a free electric rental car — no strings attached. Between TPG posts, follow his photo work and travels on Instagram. (All photos by the author.)
With the rise of ridesharing apps like Uber and Lyft, I’m increasingly finding it unnecessary to rent a car. Parking in big cities can easily run you up to $40 a night, so it’s far more affordable to just hail a ride at the press of a button and be whisked away, earning you points and avoiding the hassles of pricey hotel parking charges, tickets and car rental insurance. Sometimes having a car to drive makes more sense though — especially when running errands or just wanting to enjoy a scenic drive at your own pace. What would be even better? If that car service was free.
Enter WaiveCar, a new service in Santa Monica, California, with the slogan “We waive the fee. You drive for free.” The first two hours of the rental are free — insurance included — and after that they charge only $5.99 per hour. Unlike other services like ZipCar, which start at about $10 per hour, there are no application or membership fees. Instead, WaiveCar is supported by advertising — there’s an ad wrap on the back of the car and a roof-mounted LCD board like those commonly found on Taxis in NYC, so you’re essentially driving a mobile billboard.
WaiveCar utilizes a fleet of Chevrolet Spark electric cars. The five-door cars are small, but as a 6’3″ driver I was surprised by how spacious it was inside — plenty of headroom. I was expecting the worst cramped conditions and a barrage of advertisements, like one would expect on low-cost carrier Ryanair. Instead, I was thrilled to learn there are no plans to place any advertising inside the car. This was really key for me and I quickly found myself forgetting that I was driving a car displaying ads at all.
Using The WaiveCar App
In order to use WaiveCar, you’ll need to download the mobile app from either the Apple App Store or Google Play for Android and create an account. Signing up was fairly easy, as you just need to submit your contact info, driver license and credit card information. WaiveCar will perform a quick driving record background check via Onfido.
After having my account approved, I first tried WaiveCar during a test drive with founder Isaac Deutsch in late January. Like every technology start-up, there were some bugs, but the core functionality was working. I wanted to wait a little while and come back to check out how the app has progressed before writing this review for TPG, so I checked back in with WaiveCar this past week to see how things were working.
I found a much-improved app that didn’t crash and now listed groupings of cars together, which made selecting the best car easier at locations like the WaiveCar garage.
For my most recent WaiveCar experience, I was able to reserve a car through the app before I reached its location — you need to be within a 10-mile radius in order to make a reservation, which will be held for 15 minutes. This could easily be done from your hotel room if you were staying in Santa Monica or from the Metro Expo Line light rail train on your way into town once the station opens on May 20 — this new Santa Monica station is a quick walk to the WaiveCar garage. Once you’ve reserved a car, the app will show you walking directions on a map to guide you to your vehicle.
When you arrive at your car, the app will prompt you to start your ride and unlock the doors to the car. Inside the glove box you’ll find your key inside a fob holder. Remove the key from the holder in the glove box and put it in your pocket. It is not needed for the ignition — just push the blue power button behind the steering wheel.
During your rental, you can use either the car key or the mobile app to lock and unlock your WaiveCar. This took some getting used to and I found myself relying on the trusted physical key.
For my first drive, WaiveCar CEO Isaac Deutsch and I took a spin around Santa Monica and up the Pacific Coast Highway, easily one of my favorite roads to drive with fantastic views.
We first made a stop for some caffeine at Starbucks — I was curious if there would be issues with the roof-mounted advertising display board, but it passed without any problems. Doing my best to drain the battery, I put the car in “sport mode,” turned on the air conditioning, radio, heated seats and plugged a phone charger into one of the multiple DC power outlets.
Even without “sport mode” engaged, I loved how snappy the acceleration was on the Spark EV. Fast and quiet, breaking was likewise responsive. As someone who has had to drive underpowered “economy” rental cars that struggled to get up to speed to enter traffic on the freeway, this was another big plus for me. Since the WaiveCar is 100% electric with zero emissions and displays the white clean air vehicle HOV lane decal, you can also use carpool lanes as a single-occupancy driver on the 405 freeway, potentially a huge time saver to get through the Sepulveda Pass from Santa Monica to the San Fernando Valley.
Cruising up the Pacific Coast Highway, we stopped for a bite at Duke’s Malibu. Isaac had a flight to catch so there wasn’t enough time for lunch, but there was still plenty of range left on the car if we’d wanted to drive farther up the coast. Since Malibu is not within the Santa Monica city limits, however, the WaiveCar clock would have been running the entire time — even at $5.99 per hour this would have been way more affordable than taking two Uber rides. You can drive the WaiveCar 20 miles from the WaiveCar HQ as long as you return it in Santa Monica. This 20-mile limit from Santa Monica is likely the biggest constraint I found, but as the company expands this should be less of a challenge.
I spoke with my friend and photographer Sean Gallagher who shares his time between Dallas and Santa Monica. He lives in Santa Monica and does not own a car here, opting to use shared ride services or rent cars through traditional rental car agencies. He has been using the service since the very beginning and has found it to be useful, especially for picking up or dropping off friends at LAX, though he did mention that people have mistaken him for a taxi cab before. He said an Uber ride would usually cost about $20 and he found the Spark to be more affordable and fun to drive.
Returning the car was also an easy experience. While I brought my car back to the WaiveCar garage, you can also return it to any public electric charging station in Santa Monica, a three-hour meter or any legal public parking spot within the Santa Monica City limits — parking meters are free since WaiveCar has special permits from the city. More info can be found on its FAQ page. One important detail: WaiveCar says if you leave your car at a three-hour meter or legal parking spot, the vehicle (battery) must be charged at least 25%.
The reasoning for this is that Isaac doesn’t want you to hold onto the cars all day — he wants to keep them moving around town, not just sitting at the central WaiveCar garage. When you reach your destination, park your WaiveCar at a Santa Monica city parking meter for free with the city-issued stickers, end your WaiveCar ride and potentially let someone else use it. When you’re ready for another ride, fire up the app and see where your next car might be located.
For my second WaiveCar trip last week, I wanted to test out the cargo room and give a little more of a real-world test, so I brought two boxes of cameras and lenses that I needed to drop off at FedEx with me.
I thought this FedEx drop-off would be a pretty quick trip around the corner to a FedEx location. The boxes fit nicely inside the back thanks to the fold-down seats. I probably could have packed a lot more inside.
It turns out the location I had planned to visit was a FedEx office, which unfortunately will not accept shipments of lithium-ion batteries like those found in digital cameras because the batteries can be really dangerous to airplanes. Suddenly my “real world test” showed the usefulness of having a car. I looked up the address for the nearest FedEx shipping location that could accept these batteries, which was located in Marina Del Rey. Uber was running 1.7x surge prices and a one-way trip would have cost me about $11-$15 — UberPool would not have worked since I needed the cargo space. Since I had the WaiveCar, this was an easy and free fix. I just packed up the boxes again and hit the road!
I am excited to see how WaiveCar could expand as part of an ever-growing transportation network in Los Angeles that does not rely on traditional car ownership. With the Metro Expo Line light rail opening in May just steps from the WaiveCar garage, one could take the train from downtown LA for just $1.75, pick up a WaiveCar and enjoy a drive up the coast for lunch or swing down to LAX to pick up friends and some In-N-Out burger at the airport. Pretty cool. Would this frugal option take more time than a traditional car or Uber ride? Maybe, depending on traffic, but the savings would be more than worth it. WaiveCar is perfect for a day when you’re not in a hurry and is super environmentally friendly, too.
Have you tried WaiveCar? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.
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