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Travelers Rent Their Cars Out At Airports, In A New Business Model

At a few U.S. airports, travelers have a new option besides paying for long-term parking or finding a ride. A service named FlightCar allows them to leave their car in the company's lot — and rent it out while they're away.

In exchange, the travelers get a ride to their terminal and, after their return, a check for the use of their vehicle. FlightCar just opened its third location, at Los Angeles International Airport, Wednesday.

The company was founded by two teenagers, Kevin Petrovic, 19, and Rujul Zaparde, 18, who tell member station KPCC that they're delaying college to give their new business a chance.

"At any moment there's something like 360,000 cars in long-term parking lots in the top 30 U.S. airports," Zaparde tells KPCC's Ben Bergman. "That's very inefficient."

The pair say they got the idea of letting other people use those cars from Airbnb, which allows private individuals to rent rooms or entire homes over the Internet.

"Among the investors are Airbnb's founders, along with Ryan Seacrest and Ashton Kutcher," as Ben reports.

FlightCar says it pays an average of $30 for a five-day rental. But that rate can go higher. A luxury car that's only a few years old can earn 20 cents a mile for its owner. Mileage is limited to 75 miles a day. If it's not rented, the car's owner has still avoided paying for parking.

After dropping off a vehicle, travelers are taken to their terminal in a black town car. As for insurance, the vehicles are covered under a policy that will pay up to $1 million in liabilities or damages.

Before an owner returns, their car is washed and vacuumed. As Ben notes in his report, some negative online reviews have emerged in which people complain of finding food in their car, or having trouble being reimbursed for damages. Petrovic and Zaparde say they're trying to make sure those incidents aren't repeated.

Ben spoke to two customers who say they're happy with the service.

"To me, the great value of this is that before I learned about FlightCar, I was paying to park at the airport $15-$18 a day," Walt French, 65, says.

After returning from a recent trip to China, French said, "I got a check a couple hours ago for $111" for the use of his Acura.

FlightCar opened its first location in San Francisco in February. Boston followed soon after.

San Francisco officials have filed a lawsuit against the company, saying it breaks the rules for car-rental companies at the city's airport. Among other things, those rules call for the airport to be paid a transaction fee and a cut of the profits. The founders maintain that FlightCar is a peer-to-peer car-sharing service.

"I think anytime you do something really innovative in a market you are going to run up against opposition," Petrovic said.

You can find more stories about the emerging "sharing economy" at NPR's All Tech Considered blog, as well as on the sharing economy series page. To respond to any of these stories, just email, leave a comment, or tweet.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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