October 2, 2020
Unless you own a car, getting around during the pandemic has become a game of chance: Chances are, you won’t get COVID-19; but there is a long shot that you will.
Yepez doesn’t own a car, and during the pandemic he’s become far more hesitant about renting one. The idea of hopping on a train or calling a ride-hailing service to get to Boston’s Logan Airport, and then waiting in line at the rental desk just seemed risky, he thought, with too many ways of being exposed to COVID-19.
“We’re already doing our best to stay away from people,” he said of himself and his husband, who were planning a trip to Lincoln, New Hampshire..
According to the Globe, the service is called Kyte, an app that enables users to book a rental car and have it dropped off at their homes. The drivers — called Kyte surfers — often stow motorized scooters in the cars’ trunks, and simply dash away after handing over the keys.
It’s a mobility concept born out of subverting the unique hassles of booking a rental car, but also one particularly well-suited for this moment, as many people are itching to travel safely while limiting their exposure to others.
And it’s arriving in Boston at an opportune time. The first few months of the pandemic upended the nation’s tourism economy, with airlines, hotels, and travel destinations reeling as they saw cataclysmic drop-offs in bookings.
Despite the public being largely restricted to ground travel, rental car companiesalso were hit hard. Hertz laid off 10,000 workers and filed for bankruptcy in May, and many other rental companies suffered as Americans canceled flight plans and rental cars to match.
“Safety concerns are the number one priority of our travelers right now,” Chuck Nardozza, the managing director of Travel Sales for AAA Northeast, told the Globe., adding,“Car rental companies are trying to adapt and putting in a lot of safety protocols in place.”
Enter Kyte. The San Francisco-based startup launched in 2019, and is currently operating there and in Los Angeles. But it’s been testing its service in Greater Boston since the end of July and officially launched October 1.
Unlike most competitors in the ride-hailing game, the company is poised to help bolster the rental car industry, Francesco Wiedemann, an MIT graduate and one of the company’s three co-founders told the news outlet.
That’s because Kyte doesn’t own a fleet of cars, but partners with established rental car companies and shares revenue with them. “Economically it makes sense: The [rental companies] don’t need counter staff to do all the upselling that people frankly don’t enjoy,” he said, “We actually have a waitlist of companies in different cities who want to partner with us.”
Kyte currently has 50 cars in Boston and employs about 15 “surfers” who clean and sanitize each car as it’s booked. The surfers are contractors — like Uber or Lyft drivers — who can choose how many pickups and drop-offs they want to do each day. The company doesn’t provide each surfer with a scooter but many purchase them shortly after starting, Wiedemann said, as it helps them quickly maneuver between jobs.
The Boston Globe reports that the daily rates for rentals are competitive with other rental companies, but customers pay an additional $19 booking fee to have the vehicles delivered to their door. For drop-offs, the drivers meet customers at their homes. There’s also no need to refuel, as the company will fill the tank at a market-rate gas station instead of upcharging you on gas, Wiedemann said.
And unlike Enterprise Rent-A-Car, where a driver “comes to your door and picks you up and then you go with them to the rental location and go through the regular booking process,” Wiedemann says, “we bring it to your door and you just start your trip there.”
Yepez told The Boston Globe that his experience getting his Kia Forte with Kyte was “seamless,” and, while the company is well positioned in this era of being overly cautious, its convenience will keep him as a customer even after there’s a vaccine.
Research contact: @BostonGlobe