A new car-sharing service in Santa Monica allows people to drive for free in electric vehicles that are sponsored by advertisers. Simple enough, right?
The City of Santa Monica is currently assessing the legality of WaiveCar, which launched locally this month.
Officials must make sure the business doesn’t run afoul of a maze of local and state regulations regarding transportation and mobile advertising, according to Sal Valles, assistant director of the city Planning and Community Development department.
“There are so many subtleties in the law,” he said. “We want to be fair and take a close look at what this is. It’s not our intent to interfere with the business, but we do need to take a look at how they’ll be operating and whether or not how they propose to be operating would violate the law. When it comes to signs on vehicles … it’s important to understand exactly what they’re doing.”
WaiveCar submitted paperwork for a business license Wednesday, Valles said, and the City is seeking additional information from the company about its operation. Evaluation will continue over the next couple weeks.
Zoli Honig, chief technology officer of WaiveCar, said he’s hopeful that the company and City will be able to work through any potential legal obstacles.
“With any startup that’s new and different, you always run into that concern,” Honig said, “whether you’re Uber or Lyft or what we’re doing. There always is that problem, but startups are there to innovate. We feel we’re providing a great transportation alternative that’s clean and efficient and affordable. … We’re optimistic that the City will be a partner to help us grow so we can be a great service for the residents of the city.”
Honig and co-founder Isaac Deutsch, both from New York, see WaiveCar as a sustainable solution to commuting in and around Santa Monica. They chose California as a general target because of the availability of electric cars, and they zeroed in on Santa Monica in part because of its charging stations and environmentally conscious reputation.
Honig noted that electric vehicle drivers are allowed to park for free at on-street meters in Santa Monica. (They must obey time limits and other restrictions.)
“Los Angeles doesn’t have the greatest public transit,” he said. “If you don’t have a car, it’s impossible to get around. You’re basically taking Uber everywhere. We just saw a really good opportunity.”
WaiveCar currently has 20 cars available and eventually plans to expand its fleet to 200 across Los Angeles.
Driving a WaiveCar vehicle is free for the first two hours and $5.99 per hour after that. Currently, users are being asked to return the cars to the company’s lot near 7th Street and Colorado Avenue unless they’re left with at least a 25-percent charge or at a charging station.
“Because our cars are ad-supported, we needed an area with a lot of traffic and Santa Monica made sense,” Honig said. “There are a lot of tourists, students and professionals. It’s a great place to live and a very friendly environment for our business.”
Valles, the City planning official, said the advertising element adds a new component to the car-sharing concept. But this isn’t the first time he’s looked into the soundness of a local transportation-related company. He distinctly remembers Santa Monica’s 2014 ban on MonkeyParking, a business that encouraged drivers to sell high-demand public parking spaces through an app.
“It’s not our intent to stifle innovation. We welcome it,” Valles said. “We think companies can provide valuable benefits. … When a new model starts to impact our streets, that’s when it becomes more of a concern for us. Traffic and congestion are of top concern for residents and for the community, so those are things we do take a closer look at to understand.”