Editorial

We all learned in kindergarten that you have to share. What began in our lives as a basic classroom rule has become the economic system many industries are moving toward. The sharing economy can be exemplified by companies like Uber and Airbnb, which are making the act of sharing physical resources and services easy and cheap.

These new companies have come under criticism from those in established industries and have received pushback from policies designed to protect them. For example, two Ottawa Uber drivers are fighting charges that they broke taxi licensing bylaws.

With many great things already developing in the shared economy, established companies protesting the success of their competition, and bylaws that uphold the monopoly of companies with subpar service sound more than a bit like whiny four-year-olds who don’t want to share their Transformers toys. While there are legitimate concerns about holding up standards of service in this brave new world we live in, it’s not like no one saw this coming.

Even Back to the Future II predicted this would be what 2015 looked like in 1989. While we don’t have a biometric payment system in place (yet), the taxi industry’s failure to embrace the importance of touchscreens in monetary transactions is their own failure, not some mean trick played by unlicensed drivers offering rides to strangers in exchange for payment.

So if companies and municipalities saw this coming, they aren’t doing their customers or citizens any favours by choosing not to evolve their service and policies to accommodate the new shared economy. Instead, they’re wasting resources fighting what appears to be the inevitable.

Just over 10 years old, Couchsurfing is a shared economy service backpackers have helped to grow. The service connects travellers with strangers willing to provide accommodation. Couchsurfing developed a rating system that allows people to evaluate users and choose their connections based on those ratings.
This service allows for accommodation sharing to move from couch space shared between strangers to the development of Airbnb, where a more upscale clientele rents rooms or apartments for short periods of time. The website also provides ratings from consumers, and connects with their social media profiles to see if you have mutual friends, or at least confirm you are renting from an actual person.

Industries that can benefit by connecting the people who have resources with the people who need resources have no reason not to embrace the possibilities created through mobile applications.

Opponents of Uber have pointed to the possibility that although there is a rating system, without licensing, drivers may not meet reasonable standards. But as anyone who’s taken a taxicab anywhere knows, a license doesn’t guarantee the person is professional and trustworthy. For a normal taxi service, there’s no rating system to let you know it if they turn out not to be.

As the development from something simple and free like Couchsurfing to a more complex exchange facilitated by Airbnb demonstrates, companies are working out the kinks of providing good service and learning how to be more profitable.

The alarmist hype ends up being less about protecting consumers than it is about protecting business. Of course business owners are welcome to try and protect their livelihood, but embracing advances is usually a better way of dealing with innovation than trying to pretend it might go away.

Municipal policies that protect less efficient services are doing not just their citizens a disservice, but also tourists and innovators who may look to invest their ventures elsewhere.

It’s time they all went back to the lessons we learned in kindergarten: share. Share the marketplace, share the resources, share the future. Because there’s no time out chair when you get to adulthood. If you can’t bring your business up to current market expectations, the market will move on without you.