The Sharing Economy is Here to Stay—Get Used to It
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The Sharing Economy is Here to Stay—Get Used to It

First there was Uber and Airbnb. Now, there's car2go.

Photo by Steve M from the Torontoist Flickr Pool.

Photo by Steve M from the Torontoist Flickr Pool.

A pile of parking tickets is usually an unsettling sight because it suggests that someone is repeatedly breaking the law. And in this case someone is but, somehow, hardly anyone is complaining.

With 1.9 million members, car2go is the world’s largest car-sharing service, offering one-way, by-the-minute car rental service. Drivers can use their smartphones to locate an available car, drive it, and leave it parked when they’re done with it. Gas and insurance are not the drivers’ worry.

Toronto City Hall recently rejected car2go’s application for a city-wide on-street parking permit. But when you are backed by the automotive giant Daimler AG, you can afford to simply go ahead and offer the service anyway, come hell, fines, or high water. The company is paying for all the parking tickets it incurred—19,849 of them since March. That makes more than a $650,000 haul for the City.

By now it has become clear that businesses in the sharing economy, such as car2go, Airbnb, and Uber, are constantly challenging our existing municipal regulations and pushing us toward a new future. Uber took on both Toronto’s taxi industry as well as City Hall and did not flinch when more than 2,000 bylaw infractions were levelled against it. Smart money–courtesy of venture capitalists—bet on Uber. And Uber won. So will many others. So will car2go and other major car-sharing companies. Customers will demand these services.

What is more, the old familiar economy is currently on life support, and the new hipster kid in town is the unapologetic bastard child of the sharing, on-demand, collaborative, disruption, and gig economies. By 2020, 40 per cent of us in the workforce are likely to be “freelancers,” hustling and hawking our wares in the ever-changing “marketplace of ideas.”

Here is another example of how economy disrupters collide with regulators: Rover has an app that allows homeowners to rent out their private driveways. But Toronto municipal bylaws make running this type of unlicensed business in a residential area illegal. It seems that any entrepreneurial property-sharing, money-making endeavour runs up against some antiquated law.

Every minute of every day, money is exchanged for the use of every imaginable human and physical resource. There are ride-sharing apps, meal- and kitchen-sharing apps, space-sharing, pet-sharing services, hug-sharing, clothe-sharing, home fitness studio-sharing, and solar energy-sharing services. So what’s the problem with letting everyone share everything and letting everyone make a buck in the process?

There are some considerations that warrant government officials to be cautious. Would you be terribly happy if your neighbours ran a busy hostel out of their house? Imagine all the cars and hordes of strangers coming and going at odd hours next to your window. Well, tough luck. Just consider that Airbnb is now in 190 countries and that 67 per cent of millennials report a preference to travel and live “like locals.”

Can’t beat them? Join them. There is no escaping this economic paradigm shift—the reality on the ground is forcing all of us to adjust. It will be far less painful if we could get ourselves ahead of the trend.

We can admire our officials for fighting to protect public good against the usurpation of private interest. Councillor Gord Perks (Ward 14, Parkdale-High Park) has told this author that “car2go is a private for-profit corporation that wants the public to subsidize its business by allowing it to rent a public asset.” He is opposed to the company’s request.

It’s easy to understand why Councillor Perks is against it. In 2015, full-time jobs in Toronto grew only by 1.4 per cent, whereas part-time jobs increased by 7.3 per cent. He laments rising inequality, defends fair labour practices, and wants to ensure the public gets a good deal from the lease of a scarce public resource.

Councillor Stephen Holyday (Ward 3, Etobicoke Centre), a member of the City’s Public Works and Infrastructure Committee, has stated that the decision to reject car2go’s application was mainly based on the concern that there were not enough parking spots available in the city. According to the City’s general manager of transportation services, Stephen Buckley, Toronto has a well-regulated inventoried and zoned parking system that other cities have considered emulating.

We all get why a profit-driven, capitalist-minded company wants as few regulations as it can get away with. Yet, at the same time, we should not be afraid of such upstarts taking over. Car2go executives are desperate to quickly expand the company’s service because they are afraid of competition—of an emergence of an even more powerful capitalist and profit-driven idea.

Turo is the Airbnb of car rentals. It is already in 2,500 cities (car2go is only in 30). Imagine a world where all people can safely rent out their vehicles. That world is here now: Turo launched in Canada in April. Now you can rent a Tesla, a tricked-out 1960s VW hippie camper, and everything in between—from your neighbours.

Imagine the headaches at City Hall—licensing, taxes—when everyone and their grandfather is making money renting out vehicles. This is a massive disruption in the making. This is coming to your neighbourhood.

It stands to reason that a pilot program in Toronto that grants on-street parking permits for car2go’s 440 vehicles will not put undue stress on the roads of a city that annually issues 300,000 temporary parking permits. The de facto arrangement is already in place, since car2go launched the program in March.

The inexorable march of progress puts citizens of Toronto face-to-face with complex choices. This city can handle the challenges posed by this new, untamed economy. We will adjust along the way if we must. The alternative is an uninspiring defence of the old that is simply bad for our economy.

CORRECTION: OCTOBER 3, 9:54 AM We’ve corrected the total value of the parking tickets assessed. It is over $650,000, not $350,000.