RelayRides now offers free parking at SFO, and rental cars at SFO and other major airports. (Guerrilla Futures | Jason Tester/Flickr)
RelayRides now offers free parking at SFO, and rental cars at SFO and other major airports. (Guerrilla Futures | Jason Tester/Flickr)

In a twist on apps-based ride services, which KQED has been covering, a San Francisco-based company has become the first ride-service business to begin operating legally at San Francisco International Airport.

RelayRides lets Bay Area travelers to park for free at hotels near SFO. Their cars are rented out to visitors during their trips. The move pits the startup against traditional rental car companies, rather than smaller car-sharing businesses like ZipCar or ride-services like Lyft, Uber and Sidecar.

RelayRide’s website touts its service:

Free parking at SFO.
Fast airport shuttle.
Free car wash.
And even $20 off a car rental for your trip.

RelayRides offers all of this to you for free by renting out your car to approved travelers while you’re away. Your car is protected under our $1M insurance.

Car owners who sign up with RelayRides save big on parking fees, which can cost between $18 and $36 a day at SFO’s parking lots, and get free rides to and from the airport on hotel shuttles. Those who want to rent cars from RelayRides pay up to 40 percent less than what traditional rental car companies charge, say company officials, depending on the type of car. (RelayRides offers car rentals at 200 airports across the country.)

According to the company’s website, all vehicles are washed before they are returned, and anyone who is approved to rent them undergoes a background check. RelayRides has leased parking spaces at two hotel parking lots near the airport in Millbrae — the Westin San Francisco Airport and the Aloft San Francisco Airport.

RelayRides, a peer-to-peer car-sharing company based on an online platform where owners and renters connect, was founded in 2010. It focuses on long-term car rentals, and offers many types of cars in big and medium-sized cities across the country as well as at major airports.

According to the Bay City News, SFO spokesman Doug Yakel said company execs “showed a ‘unique’ willingness to comply with state and local rules governing airport ground transportation … other ride-sharing companies — such as Lyft, UberX and FlightCar — have so far lacked.”

“What really differentiates RelayRides from other transportation network companies is their willingness to work within the existing business structure at SFO,” Yakel said.

The company has also agreed to pay SFO 10 percent of the profits it earns from business generated at the airport, Yakel told BCN.

CEO Andre Haddad issued a statement this week calling the SFO agreement a blueprint for how his company plans to expand its operations at airports across the country. As Wired noted in a recent story, RelayRides is positioning itself to compete against traditional rental car companies. To that end:

RelayRides engineers spend much of their time crunching data to determine exactly how to undercut the big competitors while maximizing returns for the owners renting out their own cars. And even if RelayRides only manages to capture a small chunk of the traditional rental market, that could end up being a big piece of a $23 billion industry in the U.S. alone.

RelayRides is also focusing on making cars available at airports, which has always been prime turf for the traditional rental car companies. Car owners renting out their vehicles through RelayRides can choose to have their vehicles turn up in searches for rentals at various airports. …

Haddad says RelayRides is still in discussions with SFO to ensure that the company is meeting regulations for airport-dependent businesses. If the experiment goes well, it’s possible to imagine a RelayRides counter right next to baggage claim.

“That’s where the community is pushing us,” Haddad says of RelayRides customers. “It’s not like this is a decision we made sitting alone in conference rooms.”

Sponsored by

Become a KQED sponsor