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Person-to-person car rental company expands to northwest

The first of a new breed of car rental companies is expanding into the Northwest. Next month, San Francisco-based Getaround officially launches its web-based rental service in the greater Portland area.

The concept is sometimes called peer-to-peer car rental or personal car sharing. The idea is to let you rent your car to someone else when you're not using it. Several companies have sprung up in California to provide the online marketplaces to link up car owners with pre-screened renters.

Getaround's marketing director Jessica Scorpio says the Pacific Northwest seems like fertile ground for expansion.

"We're looking to find about 300 car owners who want to sign up for Getaround in Portland. So that's a lot of people that we need to find, but we think there's good interest," says Scorpio.

Scorpio says the California and Oregon Legislatures smoothed the way for expansion by tweaking insurance rules. State lawmakers made it so insurance companies can't cancel a personal auto policy when an owner lists their car with a rental service. Scorpio says it would be helpful to further expansion if Washington and Idaho followed suit.

In conjunction with the Getaround launch, the City of Portland will use a federal grant to study how peer-to-peer car sharing affects driver behavior. A theory to be tested is whether private car owners will drive less so they can earn more money renting their vehicle on an hourly or daily basis to someone else.

Tom Banse covers national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reports from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events are unfolding. Tom's stories can be found online and heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.