Home' Scoop : Scoop 71 Autumn 2015a Contents 122
FEATURE sharing economy
that are,” he says. “There’s always going to
be space for cheaper-style accommodation,
particularly where people are willing to take
a risk around safety and services.
“But we would argue everybody competing
in the same market should meet the same
regulatory standard and tax standards.
Otherwise, we end up with anarchy, because
the regulated businesses start to say, ‘If all these
other operators over here are getting away with
it, we’ll look at restructuring the business to see
how we could also get into that space.’
“You could just see very clever accountants
and lawyers looking at ways in which to structure
ownership and other things to potentially create
further tur moil for governments.”
As a side issue, he adds, the rising popularity
of short-ter m accommodation might result
in higher rents for long-term renters because
supply will be reduced.
After accommodation, transport is probably
the biggest area of interest for sharers, not least
because it has the potential to both generate
income and reduce costs. Matching spare seats
with travellers is helping fill the gap created by
the demise of that most authentic example of
collaborative consumption – hitchhiking.
The extent of the demand is illustrated by
the figures. For instance, Paris-based BlaBlaCar,
which arranges ride-sharing between cities, has
eight million members across Europe.
From New Jersey, USA, Max Fox remembers
how his father, like all the other men in their
street, would drive out of their homes at the
same time every day and park their cars at
the railway station before boarding the
train to work.
In 1999, Fox and his wife, Isabelle Boullard,
both mainframe software developers, set up
a ride-sharing service to eliminate such wasted
resources. Called carpoolworld.com, it’s expanded
across the world, including to Australia, where
about 50 new members join each month.
Corporations whose workforces need cheap
transport to get to work also have signed up,
including the University of Wollongong,
which offers free parking for cars arriving with
three or more people.
“carpoolworld.com assists people to find
others who might be able to travel together,”
says Tom Hunt in Transport Projects at the
University. “Mostly it’s been students who’ve
been doing it, but we’d like to get more staff on
the website, and this year we’re going to have
a big push to achieve that, too.”
More controversial has been the car-ride
service Uber, which has a presence in 250 cities
in almost 50 countries, and is said to generate
a turnover of nearly $1 billion a month. Its
success may seem a textbook case of disruptive
technology empowering ordinary people to
take on vested interests (in this case, the highly
regulated taxi industry), as well as reflecting
disillusionment with the traditional system of
doing things, but Uber’s journey has not been
smooth. There’s been a storm of PR disasters for
it to weather: a country-wide ban was imposed
in India after accusations of rape against an
Uber driver; the Thailand government has
banned the service, saying it is illegal to provide
private cars for paid rides rather than licensed
taxis; and, closer to home, the WA Department
of Transport is investigating individuals
involved with Uber to deter mine if vehicles
have been operating outside the Taxi Act.
Margy Osmond has her own concerns about
UberX, Uber’s low-cost hire model. “We don’t
want people – either drivers or passengers – to
find out the hard way that they’re not covered
in the event of an accident,” she says, “and at
the moment, we simply don’t know.
“In a registered taxi, you’re covered by
insurance, and taxi drivers have been screened
and trained to provide the service. The taxi
industry also provides monitored networks
with in-built safety and security features.
“UberX provides none of that, potentially
leaving drivers and customers in limbo.”
Her concerns highlight a conundrum facing
participants in the sharing economy: who’s
looking after their interests, and where do they
turn if something goes wrong?
“Car use is going down
everywhere – even in
the Chinese cities.”
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