The Sharing Economy and the Future of Cities – What’s Next?

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This post was co-authored with Lauren Hirshon. Brooks Rainwater and Lauren Hirshon recently published the National League of Cities report “Cities, the Sharing Economy and What’s Next.”

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The sharing economy is impacting cities. Around the world, innovative sharing economy technologies and business models are redefining how city dwellers access resources and consume goods. City leaders welcome innovation in their cities – but as regulatory challenges continue to arise, many would like a better understanding of how best to approach the growing sharing economy.

Sharing Economy cover minThe National League of Cities report Cities, the Sharing Economy and What’s Next provides an analysis of what is currently happening within the sharing economy in American cities. In order to explore the multifaceted nature of this space, the report focuses on five key themes: innovation, economic development, equity, safety and implementation.

The sharing economy is impacting the delivery of goods and services across a wide range of industries. Jeremiah Owyang’s Collaborative Economy Honeycomb demonstrates how this space has grown to include 12 distinct areas from space and transportation to logistics, learning and more.

Uber, Lyft, SideCar and other Transportation Network Companies (TNC’s) have dramatically disrupted travel patterns in cities. For many, hailing a cab or calling for a ride has been replaced with the act of opening a mobile application, requesting a ride, and tracking a little car graphic as it makes its way across a map to your location.

On the homesharing front, Airbnb, HomeAway, VRBO and other companies are shaking up travel – specifically, the manner in which people make use of resources like apartments, homes, spare bedrooms or even castles.

Meanwhile, other platforms and concepts like TaskRabbit (a mobile marketplace to hire people to do jobs and tasks), SnapGoods (a site for lending and borrowing high-end household items), and Feastly (a marketplace for dining experiences) are taking off as well.

Why Sharing

Also described as collaborative consumption, the collaborative economy, or the peer-to-peer economy, the sharing economy is growing and changing the way people use and consume resources and services. But it is also disrupting local regulatory environments. With this major shift occurring in urban hubs, all eyes are on cities for global leadership.

True to their reputation as laboratories for experimentation, many cities are testing different approaches and developing unique, locally-driven solutions to new challenges. While there is no status quo – and the relative novelty of the issue still precludes long-term, tested best practices – city leaders are springing into action to consider how these platforms and services will impact major issues in cities.

Cities, the Sharing Economy and What’s Next deals most specifically with two facets of the sharing economy: transportation and space, or the areas generally referred to as ridesharing and homesharing. In our report we highlighted themes, insights and lessons learned that emerged from conversations with current and former city leaders from around the country who are developing new strategies and tactics to regulate this evolving sharing space.

While there are still many unanswered questions, we’re certainly working towards clarity on the important topics to consider in this research. Depending on community priorities, neighborhood compositions, available housing stock, tourism demands, existing transportation networks, major events and other issues, the cities we interviewed chose to take different approaches. Thus, a wide spectrum of solutions has emerged.

For example, when considering ridesharing safety issues, some cities like Dallas have opted to develop a new set of insurance requirements. The city of Dallas created a novel three-phase approach to ensure that TNCs had insurance coverage 24/7. Other cities have decided to revisit their policies for taxicab companies.

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Regarding the manner in which these services impact equity and access, some cities have created funds to support wheel-chair accessible transportation. Others have included clauses in ordinances explicitly stating that services cannot be denied to certain passengers. Many are looking for ways to capture new data to track areas like pick-up and drop-off locations.

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Across the interviews we conducted for our report, many city leaders expressed wanting access to more data from sharing economy companies. Unlike most traditional service providers, the business model of sharing economy companies is predicated on data and the ability to match end user customers to vehicles or available housing. The availability of this data – for cities to better understand equity and access issues, as well as for the purposes of developing enhanced transit systems – is a theme that warrants further exploration.

Cities are also taking a varied approach to addressing the new economic reality created by sharing economy businesses. In a number of cities such as Austin, Texas, Washington, D.C., Madison, Wisc., Portland, Ore., Chicago and San Francisco, homesharing companies have begun to include local hotel taxes in their rate structures – either voluntarily or as part of local regulations on homesharing.

Some cities have not yet reached agreement on these issues, and the onus is on hosts to pay appropriate taxes on their revenues. In Washington, D.C., the recent TNC legislation included a provision requiring TNCs to pay taxes equaling 1 percent of all revenues from trips originating from within the city; annual revenue totals are estimated to be in the millions. In Seattle, TNCs must pay a fee of 10 cents for each ride that originates in the city. Other cities, such as Dallas, decided not to touch the issue of revenue capture when drafting legislation.

Our report provides additional details on each of these issues, the strategies city officials are developing, and their reasoning behind their approach. While our report doesn’t provide all the answers, it is meant to be a primer for what is currently happening in this arena – and we hope it offers some sense of comfort that city leaders are not alone in grappling with substantial new regulatory challenges.

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We also hope our findings inspire city officials to ask the tough questions. The sharing economy is disruptive, and it’s moving quickly. It’s changing how we get around, where we stay, how we manage tasks, what we buy – and sometimes the changes occurring can be overwhelming for city officials.

However, the presentation of these new challenges offers city leaders the unique opportunity to not only think about present concerns but also to look to the future. City leaders should consider the new opportunities these platforms and services are creating to transform approaches and operating models so that cities can become even more agile, responsive and innovative themselves.

The sharing economy will only continue to grow and evolve as cities serve as laboratories for these ever-changing technologies and business models. There is great promise in the rapid ascent of sharing economy services in our nation’s cities. The best thing that city policymakers can do is keep an open mind about how the new economy might be beneficial with the right regulatory framework in place – because sharing is here to stay.

About the Authors:

Brooks Rainwater bio photoBrooks Rainwater is the Director of the Center for City Solutions and Applied Research at the National League of Cities. Follow Brooks on Twitter at @BrooksRainwater.

 

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Lauren Hirshon is the Director of Consulting at the University of Pennsylvania’s Fels Institute of Government, and a public sector strategist, coach and innovator. Follow Lauren on Twitter at @LaurenHirshon.