The Sharing Economy Is Getting Serious

By Samuel Greengard Print this article Print
Sharing Economy

Shared services are revolutionizing the way people think and act. As a result, traditional industries, like hotels and taxis, are forced to adjust and adapt.

As digital transformation ricochets and rumbles through one industry after another, change is taking place at breakneck speed. Ten years ago, there was no Uber or Airbnb. There was no Zipcar or Lyft. Now, 80 percent of U.S. consumers are expected to use the sharing economy by 2017.

What's more, these high-profile examples only scratch the surface of what's going on. In France, BlaBlaCar now has 25 million members in 22 countries. It makes it possible for someone who's traveling from, say, Bordeaux to Berlin, to find others willing to pay a fee to grab a ride. Drivers aren't allowed to make a profit; they simply defray their travel costs.

Another French startup, Drivy, allows automobile owners to rent their vehicles to those in need of a car for a day or two—with insurance. The advantage is that you can pick up a vehicle at a location virtually anywhere. There are also booming motor scooter sharing services and bicycle sharing services, such as Spinlister, which operates in 14 major cities in the U.S. and Europe.

Today, many young people do not have driver's licenses or cars. Fuel and parking are expensive, and the latter is a growing nightmare in many cities. Meanwhile, arranging flights or train rides creates a different set of challenges, and it's not always possible to get between two smaller cities or towns easily. Shared services and economies are revolutionizing the way people think and act.

Yet, shared economies are more than a way to save a few dollars. For example, the average car is in use less than 5 percent of the time. Owning a car, however necessary, is a terrible use of resources. And why not rent out your house or apartment if you know you're going to be away for a few weeks? Airbnb advances the idea of a house exchange into the digital age.

As a result, we're seeing traditional industries, like hotels and taxis, forced to adjust and adapt. Many are introducing innovations that wouldn't have otherwise happened—or at least not as quickly—without a wave of disruptors with simple-to-use mobile apps.

To be sure, there are legal and practical issues to figure out in shared economies. In some cases, it's also important to create a somewhat level playing field—especially in regard to labor issues—without blocking innovation. But we'll sort through these issues over the next few years.

The main question is: How much sharing do we all want to do?

This article was originally published on 2016-07-04
Samuel Greengard writes about business and technology for Baseline, CIO Insight and other publications. His most recent book is The Internet of Things (MIT Press, 2015).
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