Douglas Mackell was nearing his last leg as an Uber driver in 2019 when one of his passengers introduced him to a new word. “Turo,” the passenger said. “I’m taking your Uber to pick up my Turo.”

Turo, Mackell learned, is one of many car-sharing apps, such as Getaround, Avail and Car2Go, that allow car owners to rent their car online when they aren’t using it – essentially the airbnb for cars.

A seasoned gig worker, Mackell knew an opportunity when he saw it. He purchased a new car to continue making deliveries, and listed his old car on Turo.

“It absolutely blew up,” said Mackell, of Westbrook. “So I decided to strike while the iron was hot, and within two months I bought four cars.”

Amid a national car-rental shortage that’s left travelers scrambling for cheaper alternatives, car-sharing platforms are on the rise, and Maine’s gig workers are expanding beyond four wheels.

Though the majority of car sharers own under two cars and utilize car sharing for extra money to pay off their car loans or other debts, gig workers like Mackell, investing in a minifleet of cars, are dipping their toes into a U.S. car rental market that is estimated to be worth $39.9 billion in 2021, according to IbisWorld.com, an industry research firm.

With the recent growth in car sharing, the state of Maine is trying to get in front of a host of insurance regulations.

On June 27, Gov. Janet Mills signed into law a bill updating regulations established in Maine’s initial car-sharing legislation in 2019. That first measure was pushed by worried car-rental companies, such as Hertz and Enterprise, as part of an effort to weaken car-sharing platforms in Maine and across the nation. But the law left gaps in liability coverage and lacked important consumer protections.

Updates in the most recent version of the law are based on a national model drafted by the nation’s top insurance and car-sharing companies and adopted by 11 other states. The legislation ensures coverage for drivers and car owners during the car-sharing period and continues to exempt providers and car owners from vicarious liability, or being held financially accountable for another’s actions.

The new law also includes additional consumer protections, such as mandated record-keeping and disclosures, and clarifies the distinction between standard car rental companies and car-sharing platforms – a big win for the car-sharing industry, which is now facing similar battles across the nation.

In 2019, the rental car industry argued that car-sharing platforms should be defined as rental-car companies and subject to similar sales taxes. Turo, the largest car-sharing provider in Maine, argued that it is fundamentally different from a rental car company because car-sharing companies don’t actually own any cars, and private car owners don’t receive the tax exemptions that car rental companies do.

“Maine has decided to regulate the peer-to-peer car-sharing industry differently than rental car companies,” said Lou Bertuca, head of government relations at Turo. “Over a dozen states have decided to make that same determination, ensuring that traditional rental doesn’t dictate the terms of regulation and try to stifle the growth of this emerging industry.”

The trade organization that represents the rental car industry, the American Car Rental Association, did not respond to a message from a reporter seeking comment.

The Maine Trial Lawyers Association opposed the new law. The association cited concerns about the exemption of vicarious liability and a reduction in the required minimum insurance protections from three times the state minimum to just equal to the state minimum, which it saw as favoring car-sharing providers and not Maine’s consumers.

“The Maine Trial Lawyers Association is excited about the potential ways that car-sharing programs can benefit Maine people and the Maine environment,” the association said in a statement. “However, we opposed the recent legislation because it rolled back protections for consumers and future casualty victims, in the fledgling, two-year old law, at their expense and in favor of insurance companies and corporations.”

The association said it plans to pursue legislation to “restore consumer rights and correct legal ambiguities that we believe will cause court confusion if left uncorrected.”

Meanwhile, with summer travel returning to Maine in full force, and car rental prices skyrocketing, car-sharing hosts are already seeing a large increase in demand.

Jeffrey Laverdiere, a Portland resident, and his 13-year-old son, Sam, his main helper, currently own and operate a fleet of 15 cars on Turo. According to Laverdiere, their cars are booked into the fall.

Depending on the make, model and year of the car, Laverdiere charges between $20 and $60 per day.

Turo promotes that its platform offers rentals averaging around 20 percent below the average car rental company, but this summer some of the remaining cars in Portland exceed $100 per day.

With 15 cars, Laverdiere charges a lower price, and says that his listings have been around half of what’s offered by the local traditional car rental market.

But the money made with car sharing doesn’t always come easy. Hosts running fleets have to manage a pile of car debt, maintenance and parking payments. And above all, they need to have a high tolerance for headaches.

Three years ago, on just his fourth rental on Turo, Laverdiere’s car was stolen by a drug dealer. Luckily, after two months, with the help of Turo, Liberty Mutual and a repossession company, he was able to get the car back undamaged.

Now a seasoned car-sharing host, Laverdiere and his son understand what it takes to run a successful car-sharing fleet. According to Laverdiere, there are three elements to his success:

“You have to have great knowledge of all the supporting apps to help you track your expenses and deductions, you need to have a good tax accountant – don’t try it yourself – and you absolutely have to have relationships, mechanics, people that are willing to be flexible and help you out.”

Above all else, Laverdiere credits the mechanics at the garage in Gorham who work to keep his fleet maintained and fixed when problems do occur.

Laverdiere and his son now leave their cars in undisclosed locations throughout the city, and allow for their guests to pick up their cars by accessing a key in locked boxes on the cars.

He said they are making around $1,100 per month per car, with around 30-40 percent expenses the first year, due to extra maintenance to get the cars up to his standards, and 20 percent expenses afterward. Laverdiere said he is looking to eventually boost his fleet up to 30 cars.

“We’re right on the edge of what I consider a tsunami, and I’m being conservative,” he said.


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