5 months with Bernardine
It’s not uncommon to hold the belief that you, the CEO, the founder, the product manager, or the developer are the ‘user’ of your own product. The reality is, however, that you’re almost always nothing like the typical user of your app. At best, the way you use your own product will be one of the trillions of use cases your app goes through. But using your own product to discover its issues is always a good idea - and I can’t recommend it enough.
As you may already know, Hiyacar is on a mission to reduce individual car ownership. In doing so, we want to help cities reclaim parking space for all of its constituents, build more cycling lanes, wider pavements, and an added bonus in today’s climate - make space for social distancing.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise, then, when I tell you that for most of us working at Hiyacar, actually owning a car when we live in a city with one of the widest public transport networks makes no sense. I’ve never owned a car, and I’m very proud of it. I’ve also been a member of different car clubs in Montreal when I used to live there (defunct Car2Go, Communauto, I even tried Turo!) and was lucky enough to have access to my parents’ car when I needed it.
After moving to London and finally getting my UK licence, I’m now able to rent cars on Hiyacar. I’ve rented Zulifah’s Nissan Juke to pick up a bed frame donated on Nextdoor, Simon’s Renault Zoe to pick up a friend in Twickenham, and I’ve even driven our Toyota car club cars to Whistable, Newquay, the Cotswolds, along the scenic Kent Coast, and to Heathrow airport (ah, the views).
I’ve had plenty of opportunities to try our app from the drivers perspective, so I’ve also had first hand experience of some of the problems our members face: the car doesn’t unlock, the parking space is too narrow to take good photos, the fuel hasn’t been topped up etc. This has prompted a myriad of tiny improvements here and there to ensure the hiya experience is better each time.
But how do you get to ‘experience’ the owner’s side of things when one of your goals is to never own a car living in a city? That’s when Bernardine conveniently made its way into my life. My colleague Joe suggested that I look after one of our car club cars, so I could see what it’s like to share a car on Hiyacar, without actually owning one. I was a bit worried about how much work outside of normal hours this would entail, but excitedly accepted the challenge.
Five months with Bernardine
I started my owner experience at the end of June this year. It’s been five months now and although my time with Bernie is coming to an end, I’ve learned much more than I thought I would - so let’s dive in.
1. Resident Parking is too cheap, and it doesn’t reflect the true cost of owning a car
First off, as someone who believes cars are taking up too much space in cities, I was shocked to find that I would only pay £120 for 12 months of parking in Hackney (E5). How can boroughs, in 2020, give up parking for so little? The market rate for a car parking space in London is between £2,000 - £10,000 a year!
Another factor to consider in terms of effective pricing is the pollution cost. A car produces 271g of CO2 per km, vs. 21g for a bicycle. For secure on-street cycling parking, it’s just £42 pounds a year in the same borough. Isn’t it time that parking reflects the true cost of owning a vehicle? Alas, boroughs still have a lot of work to do to help end car dependency…
2. You can make a lot of money
If your car is set up on Instant Book with Quickstart technology, and located in a dense neighbourhood like Hackney, chances are you will make a lot of money by renting it on Hiyacar. In August, little Bernie was booked out every single day! Since the end of summer, it’s been a little quieter - but not as bad as I expected. The car is still hired multiple times a month.
Below is a graph of the cumulative revenue Bernie generated. A regular peer owner would have to pay a 20-30% commission to Hiyacar, depending on their involvement with the platform. My first booking was on the 19th June, which means that in 120 days, the car generated £2,291 of rental income.
As a top owner, which I became quite quickly, I would keep 80% of this revenue, totalling £1,833, or £15.27 per day. Reverting back to my first point, this means that I paid my monthly parking in less than 24 hours by listing my car on the platform.
3. The first few bookings are scary, but most are seamless
I remember feeling quite nervous the first few times Bernie was hired out. What if something went wrong? What if there was an accident? What if the technology failed and I wasn’t there to help the driver? Or, what if the car wasn’t tidy when it was returned and I didn’t have time to clean it between hires?
While all of these fears were quite legitimate, it turns out that during the last six months, I’ve only had three issues - all of which were resolved quite quickly (I will get into those later). Most Quickstart & Instant book hires are effortless and it did truly feel like I had a passive income.
There have even been bookings where I didn’t exchange a word with the drivers. This initially felt odd, but equally it was amazing to witness how seamless the whole process was even in these situations.
4. People come back
In the short period of time that I’ve had Bernardine, I’ve had multiple repeat drivers. 12.5% of my drivers have come back to make a second booking. One of them has even made four bookings already.
5. It’s convenient to live near a petrol station
I’ve only had to refuel the car once on behalf of a driver who forgot to do so. I used to make a point of letting drivers know about the petrol station nearby, but haven’t for a while and the car continues to come back refuelled each time.
6. Drivers on Hiyacar are carefully verified and it shows
I’ve heard my fair share of horror stories about bad drivers wrecking vehicles on some car sharing platforms. But I’m lucky enough to say that after 35 bookings, Bernardine has come out the other end with only one chip to the windscreen (or two, if we include the one I did myself.) This is normal wear & tear and the driver declared it straight away.
Drivers have always brought the car back clean, with the exception of finding a forgotten water bottle or a bit of mud on the wheels. But overall, I haven’t had any damage issues. Working for Hiyacar, I know it’s not easy to get verified and we check a lot of things (identity, licence, driving records, previous offences, previous claims, occupation, address, outstanding CCJs, etc.) and it might feel cumbersome to sign up, but in the end it pays off because we truly have a great community of drivers.
7. Experiencing issues first hand helped me improve our service and our apps
By using the app myself as an owner, I got to learn a lot about how to improve our product. I was able to report a few bugs in our messaging app or with our notifications, for example, which have now been fixed.
Earlier I mentioned that I experienced only three real issues during the hiring process. Fortunately though, these have all led to improvements in our product…
Reporting existing damage
During one of my excursions in the car, I got a chip in the windscreen. With nowhere to report it myself in the vehicle description, I assumed the next driver would see it and declare it in the existing damage section.
Unfortunately, the driver didn’t notice. And as luck would have it, he too got another chip in the windscreen during his rental - which is when he then spotted the first one. This of course led to a lot of confusion and unnecessary stress for the driver.
But because of this incident, owners will soon be able to declare existing damage on their car which will be displayed to drivers both when they pick up the vehicle, and throughout the duration of their hire so it can be referred back to if something new is spotted.
Locating the car before or after a hire
My car was usually parked near my house. On one occasion, however, the car location on the app placed it at my house, when it was actually parked much further up the road.
On this particular morning (while I was sleeping), a distressed driver came knocking at the door as she had been looking for the car for 30 minutes. After my flatmate finally got me out of bed, I verified what was showing up on her app and could see that the location was not properly shared or displayed to her. We have now changed this and are showing the latest known location of the car and the usual address in case there is no available GPS data.
I also found it very frustrating that I didn’t always know where drivers would leave the car, but because I had access to our admin system, I was able to see the latest GPS coordinates. This is why we’ve decided to make the car GPS location accessible to owners when the car is not currently on hire.
Different cars have different quirks
Bernardine, like many new automatic cars, is a ‘push start.’ However unlike other push start cars, the start button is a red switch that is located near the media player, not the steering wheel.
I’ve had messages from distressed drivers not knowing how to start the car or where to find the non existent keys. I’ve also had a driver leave the car on all night, because while the engine turns off automatically, the car itself does not. This put me in a tricky situation when a new driver booked the car the next day with only 15 minutes notice and the battery had drained overnight. Fortunately, we found the driver a replacement car, but it was a completely avoidable situation.
I’ve added a few instructions about how to start and stop the car in the listing and access instructions, but truth be told, there wasn’t a specific way for owners to let drivers know about the individual quirks of their car. This is why we’ve added four new fields to our car listing where owners will be able to explain in more depth any parking restrictions, how to start or stop the car, where to find the keys (if any!) and anything else that a car owner thinks might help drivers have a pleasant experience.
I’ve recently moved to Hornsey (N8) which means my time with Bernie is coming to an end. The prospect of ‘owning’ a car and sharing it was a bit daunting at first and I thought it would require much more involvement and effort on my side. But it’s been so easy and rewarding that I’ve decided to carry on with a newcomer, Harriet- a brand new Peugeot 208, who’s parked right in front of my kitchen window. Don’t worry, it’s still a car club car. I’m nowhere near changing my mind about owning my own car in a city.
I’m excited for what my journey with Harriet has in store. I look forward to helping drivers get a car when they want one, to continue learning as an owner and improving our product, and hopefully, encouraging my neighbours to start sharing their own cars as well!
Big thank you to Catherine Elliott for proofreading and editing this article.