I'm all for new mobility solutions and the sharing economy when it saves me money and makes my life easier. On a recent trip to Los Angeles for Automobility L.A. (née the L.A. Auto Show), for example, my decision on where to stay was based on whether I would need a car (and have to pay associated costs such as expensive downtown parking fees) or budget for cabs or ride-sharing services.
A few days before the show, I decided to ditch the hotel room I'd reserved about a mile from the L.A. Convention Center for an Airbnb that cost about half as much and was only two blocks away. With this option, my only transportation expense was for a Lyft from the airport to downtown.
But I planned to go surfing on my last day in town and needed a vehicle to haul a board and that I could drop off at LAX. I hadn't tried GM's Maven car-sharing service, so I downloaded the app before leaving home.
Early the next morning I signed up for Maven via computer before heading to the show, and received the following message: "Please enter your billing information in order to proceed. Your driver's license record is still being verified. It will take up to 2 business days. Check back soon! Thank you for your patience."
I didn't need a car until Thursday afternoon, so no problem. I also did a quick check and saw there were several vehicles nearby and found that I could drop one off at LAX.
I entered my billing info by computer, but the card wasn't accepted. So I tried another, but same thing happened. I called Maven, and a representative told me I needed to enter my credit card info via the smartphone app instead.
She also said that I needed to use a card issued by a "major financial institution," and I replied that the two cards I used — one from Wells Fargo and another from Bank of America — obviously fit that criteria. I later entered my credit card info into the app. This time I used a different Wells Fargo card, but got the same result.
On the day of my departure, I checked the time of my original call to Maven, and it was around 7:30 a.m. Tuesday. It was now 8:30 a.m. Thursday, but my driver's license still wasn't approved.
I called Maven about this and the credit card issue, hoping that I could get into a vehicle within the next couple of hours. The Maven representative said my driver's license approval was still pending and that I needed to enter a credit card. I told her I'd already done that twice, and I asked to speak to a supervisor.
After I again explained the situation to the supervisor, she said she couldn't help me either, and suggested I write an email to Maven and they would respond within five business days. I told her I didn't have time to write an email, and that it wouldn't do me much good anyway since I needed the car today.
I then did a quick Google search and found an Avis rental counter a few blocks away. In less than 15 minutes, I reserved a car for $75 — a Ford Flex that was able to fit a surfboard inside.
As a follow up, I checked the Maven site and app a week later and got the same "Your driver's license record is still being verified" message. I did it again while writing this column almost two weeks later, and same thing. I also phoned Maven one last time — almost two weeks after my last call — and the representative said she couldn't understand why I was still not approved, and she would escalate the case. But it was obviously way too late.
While I've used Airbnb and Lyft on plenty of other business trips (and have signed up for Zipcar and BMW's ReachNow car-sharing services without hassle), this L.A. Auto Show was a revelation in terms of how much time and money I could save via the sharing economy. The exception was my experience with Maven, which left me frustrated with the time I wasted trying to use the service. And it makes me question GM's future as a seamless mobility provider.