Less than two weeks before the primary election, the peer-to-peer rideshare company Turo started donating thousands of dollars to Hawaii candidates ranging from Honolulu City Council Chair Tommy Waters to gubernatorial front runner Lt. Gov. Josh Green. 

Both the city and the Legislature have recently been considering bills that would clarify regulations covering companies like Turo, to distinguish from traditional car rentals.

Donations began Aug. 2 and include a total of 19 recipients. Many received their maximum legal contribution, which is $2,000 for House candidates and $6,000 for gubernatorial. Senate candidates, along with Waters, also received $2,000 each.

Other notable recipients include Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz, chair of the Ways and Means Committee; Rep. Henry Aquino, chair of the Transportation Committee; and Derek Kawakami, mayor of Kauai.

Turo is a platform where users can rent out their vehicles to other users, like Airbnb but for cars. Also like Airbnb, it’s become controversial in Hawaii.  

Crowded parking lot of cars
There was a shortage of rental cars when tourists returned to Hawaii during the pandemic after government restrictions eased, prompting some residents to rent out their own vehicles. Hawaii News Now/2021

Critics say it further enables tourists to clog the streets while supporters argue it’s an innovative way for residents to earn extra income, echoing the debate that surrounds short-term lodging rentals.

Many complaints about Turo come from people whose neighbors purchase fleets of vehicles that then take up street parking, said Sen. Chris Lee, chair of his chamber’s Transportation Committee.

Last September, the Honolulu City Council passed a resolution calling for a statewide regulatory framework that would classify this industry as separate from car rental companies like Enterprise Rent-A-Car, and allow counties some room to regulate on their own with an eye toward traffic management.

Lee said a peer-to-peer renter lacks the overhead of a full rental company. He added that it’d be like regulating a homeowner with solar panels as if the individual were a public energy utility. 

In June, the Legislature passed a bill that made this distinction, while adding insurer requirements to the industry that Turo said put it at a disadvantage compared to the rental car industry. The bill was signed by the governor.

Lee didn’t receive contributions from Turo; he’s running unopposed in the primary election.

During the pandemic, global supply chain issues held up new vehicle production and caused a domino effect on the supply of used cars. Rental car prices surged as they couldn’t keep up with demand, and Turo partially filled in the gaps, though its prices weren’t immune from the surge too. 

Turo is registered as a noncandidate committee for campaign contribution purposes. Its organizational report lists Louis Bertuca, the company’s Vice President of Governmental Relations, as the committee’s chair and treasurer. 

The company didn’t respond to questions on Friday.

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