MONEY Tech

6 Horrible Things the Sharing Economy Is Being Accused Of

A Lyft car drives along Powell Street on June 12, 2014 in San Francisco, California.
Lyft, the ride-sharing company known for its iconic pink mustaches, is involved in what's called "Tech's Fiercest Rivalry" with competing service Uber. Justin Sullivan—Getty Images

You'd think that businesses that are part of something dubbed the "sharing economy" would play nice. Well, think again.

While sharing economy businesses such as Airbnb, Lyft, Uber, and TaskRabbit were created with the idea of connecting people and empowering individuals as entrepreneurs, they were also designed to disrupt existing business models. That process can be ugly, as it occasionally wreaks havoc not only on big industries like hotels and taxis, but also on how people make a living and where they can afford to live.

There’s an argument to be made that the sharing economy is not really about sharing at all. Rather, it’s a semi-regulated, tech-enabled, blatantly capitalistic peer-to-peer business model. Sure, it helps people earn a few bucks or get services cheaper than usual, but we must admit that the model can be brutally cut-throat in the way seemingly everything and everyone is monetized. Given such, it’s not all that surprising that sharing economy businesses are being blamed for some pretty nasty stuff lately. For example:

Sabotaging Each Other
The Wall Street Journal described the battle of ride-sharing competitors Uber and Lyft as “Tech’s Fiercest Rivalry” due to tactics such as giving cash bonuses (up to $1,000) to recruit drivers away from each other. In a particularly ugly turn, Lyft accused Uber of booking—then cancelling—more than 5,500 rides since last October, just to mess with Lyft drivers and the company in general. (Uber denied Lyft’s claims.)

Price Gouging
This summer, Uber agreed to limit surge pricing during natural disasters and emergencies, but that doesn’t mean its hated price hikes during peak demand have gone entirely away. Fans who attended a recent music festival in San Francisco were subjected to surge pricing that was five times the normal rate, meaning a short Uber ride through town cost hundreds of dollars, Valleywag reported.

Inviting Squatters and Scammers into Your Home
Following in the footsteps of an Airbnb host being disturbed by renters holding an orgy in his apartment, there’s the story of an Airbnb host being outraged by squatters who refused to leave (or pay) for their rental.

Wrecking the Housing Market
Critics say that Airbnb rentals turn homes and apartments into quasi-hotels, and landlords in desirable, touristy destinations such as San Francisco and Marfa, Texas are being accused of evicting long-term tenants so that units can be used as more lucrative short-term rentals. The sharing economy pioneer has also been linked to soaring rent and housing prices in general, and also the idea that the comfortable atmosphere in apartment buildings and entire neighborhoods is being destroyed by the presence of too many loud, unruly tourists.

Illegal Currency Trading
A group of taxi companies in India has accused Uber of violating local laws for credit card transactions. It is against the law for Indian citizens to conduct business in India using a foreign currency, and that’s what the group is saying is happening every time someone there uses Uber.

Ruining Wages, and Not Only for Taxi Drivers
Cab drivers are the ones who have been most up in arms about the way rideshare upstarts like Uber, Lyft, and Sidecar have been disrupting their livelihoods by wooing away customers. But the brutally competitive nature of these businesses and the sharing economy in general has been causing trouble for other workers as well—like Uber and Lyft drivers themselves.

Professional UberX drivers supposedly earn $90,000 per year in New York City, but that figure doesn’t factor in many business expenses, including parking, gas, insurance, or the maintenance of one’s vehicle. And as rideshare companies engaged in price wars recently, some drivers have seen their wages cut significantly.

The dark side of the sharing economy is that it commoditizes all sorts of skills, services, and workers overall, and puts downward pressure on how valuable they are. The recent changes at TaskRabbit, the peer-to-peer site where people can book (and offer to handle) outsourced chores, has resulted in something of a race to the bottom in terms of money people can earn, mostly because it has become more difficult to beat out the competition for gigs.

[UPDATE: TaskRabbit reached out to clarify that it recently adopted a minimum rate of $11.20 per hour for the tasks coordinated on its site. The company points out that the rate is much higher than any state's minimum wage.]

In a vehemently pro-sharing economy column published this summer by the New York Times’ Tom Friedman—it was was more or less an extended interview with Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky—Chesky envisioned a future in which people multitasked at several jobs rather than serving as employees of a single company. “You may have many jobs and many different kinds of income, and you will accumulate different reputations, based on peer reviews, across multiple platforms of people,” Chesky said. “You may start by delivering food, but as an aspiring chef you may start cooking your own food and delivering that and eventually you do home-cooked meals and offer a dining experience in your own home.”

This vision sorta makes it sound like one day we’ll all be TaskRabbits, hopping from gig to gig and competing against other taskers at every step. This is cause for concern. To quote a notable recent headline: “If TaskRabbit Is the Future of Employment, the Employed Are F***ed.” A New York Times story published this past weekend that followed the day-to-day existence of some sharing economy “microentrepreneurs” shows that this vision of the future has already arrived for many workers–and the reality is one of grim uncertainty and tough competition.

As for drivers operating taxis or rideshare cars, well, they have more to worry about than diminishing wages. Not long ago, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick made it clear that down the road, he expects that Uber will not employ any drivers at all. Instead, rides will be provided by self-driving cars. And presumably, all the people who would otherwise be drivers will have to jump into the scrum and compete with the rest of the rabbits for whatever work is available.

MONEY Bitcoin

Uber, Airbnb, and Others May Soon Accept Bitcoin

Bitcoin
Lucy Nicholson—Reuters

Customers may soon be able to use bitcoin for a variety of web services if a new deal involving an Ebay-owned payment processor goes through.

Bitcoin fans, rejoice. A new deal between a Paypal subsidiary and digital currency companies may soon allow customers to pay for Uber, Airbnb, Opentable, and other services with digital currency.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Braintree, a payment processor Ebay acquired last year, is in negotiations with businesses like Coinbase that allow consumers to store, buy, and send bitcoin, a digital currency that can be either “mined” using computing power or purchased with dollars. Braintree is currently part of Ebay’s Paypal unit. If these negotiations are successful, Braintree’s clients would be able to accept bitcoin payments.

If Braintree does enable clients to start taking bitcoin, they would not be the first to do so. Overstock.com was the first large company to accept bitocoin payments; and Dell, technology retailer Newegg, and satellite TV provider Dish Network, have all followed suit. Most of these services have also partnered with Coinbase.

While the currency has seen increased adoption, not all developments have been positive. In July, New York’s Department of Financial Services proposed new rules for virtual currency businesses that sought to reduce illegal activity—which bitcoin has previously facilitated—and increase consumer protections for the currency’s users. While some have lauded the rules as an important first step toward making bitcoin a viable currency, other bitcoin advocates slammed the regulations for eliminating bitcoin’s anonymity and their arduous requirements on certain businesses.

Bitcoin has also not fared well in terms of price. After the value of one bitcoin (BTC) peaked at over $1,100 in late 2013, its price has come crashing back to earth. As of today, one BTC is worth $512; down from $747 at the beginning of this year.

TIME Transportation

Uber Rolls Out ‘Uber for Business’ To Help You Expense Rides

Barcelona Cabs Strike Against Uber Taxi App
In this photo illustration, the smartphone app 'Uber' shows how to select a pick up location on July 1, 2014 in Barcelona, Spain. David Ramos—Getty Images

Uber doesn’t want to be just a service for people on vacations or late-night benders — the company is launching a new business portal to target customers traveling for work.

The new platform, called Uber for Business, will let companies set up corporate accounts through which employees can charge their rides directly to their employers rather than having to keep track of receipts.

“A centralized billing system helps administrators, team leads and small business owners by providing trip information in place of receipts and helps employees by connecting with the same safe, reliable Uber ride they are used to without the hassle of having to file expenses,” Uber said in a Tuesday blog post announcing the new feature.

In addition, Uber has partnered with Concur, the corporate expenses management company, to include Uber rides directly in Concur’s expense options. Concur’s 25 million users will be able to link their Uber and Concur accounts and add Uber charges to their expense reports seamlessly.

The new focus on business could help Uber tap into a large pool of wealthier customers. The startup is growing fast and recently earned a valuation of $17 billion.

Airbnb, another hot startup that lets people rent out their homes to guests, announced a similar business portal on Monday aimed at corporate travelers.


TIME Travel

13 Celebrity Homes You Can Rent

Denzel Washington and Jimmy Page have lived in this Malibu estate Airbnb

From NYC to Los Angeles, famous celebrity-home listings that provide A-list vacations—entourage not included

Are stars just like us? It doesn’t feel that way when gazing at some celebrity’s multimillion-dollar estate through the window of a star-map tour bus.

But thanks to the rise of peer-to-peer vacation rental sites, staying in a legend’s current or former home is now sometimes just a click away. These properties offer travelers the chance to live vicariously—and, sure, lavishly.

Denzel Washington/Jimmy Page: Malibu, CA

Celebrity history runs deep at this estate, infamous for its parties in the ’60s and ’70s. (According to the current owners: “Captain & Tennille, a pop music duo from the 1970s, were one of the first occupants and lived here, we were told, with a chimpanzee.”) Floor-to-ceiling windows flood the three-bedroom, three-building property with natural light. It sprawls over eight acres up in the bluffs overlooking Broad and Zuma beaches; some guests have reported seeing dolphins and breaching whales. $490 per night with a two-night minimum; airbnb.com.

Jim Morrison: West Hollywood, CA

Rocker Jim Morrison slept here—and gave interviews, jammed on his guitar, and wrote poetry. His former home is decked out with The Doors memorabilia, vintage furniture, and a bit of retro ’60s style: beads hanging in a doorway, a trippy floral shower curtain, colorfully painted walls. The two-bedroom is a short walk from the Sunset Strip. $3,180 with a 30-night minimum; airbnb.com.

Bode Miller: Carroll, NH

Olympic skier Bode Miller and his wife, Morgan Beck, a professional beach volleyball player, own this cozy estate in New Hampshire’s ski-resort territory. Beck tweeted about the home in 2013 and touts its “gorgeous views of Mount Washington.” Guests can also expect stone fireplaces, deep-soaking tubs, hand-carved wood furnishings, leather sofas, and four bedrooms that accommodate up to 10. $800 per night with a two-night minimum; airbnb.com.

Paula Deen: Tybee Island, GA

Y’all Come Inn includes, naturally, with a stellar kitchen stocked with all of Paula’s cookbooks—one of which will be signed for guests as a souvenir. The 2,000-square-foot house also features three cheery bedrooms and a front porch with picnic-table seating. It’s located on Tybee Island, 20 miles from Savannah and four blocks from the beach. It’s a neighborhood that’s also attracted homeowners John Mellencamp and Sandra Bullock. $295 per night with a two-night minimum; vrbo.com.

Bing Crosby: Palm Springs, CA

Palm Springs has attracted enough legendary residents (among them Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra) to inspire multiple celebrity-home tours. For a truly immersive experience, settle in to Bing Crosby’s 1934 hacienda in the old Movie Colony. The Spanish-style four-bedroom villa has the original tiled floors, vaulted ceilings, and a wood-burning fireplace. Modern amenities include a projector in the screening room as well as an updated kitchen. You’ll be tempted out of doors by the heated pool, surrounded by bougainvillea and citrus trees. $675 per night with a three-night minimum; airbnb.com.

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MONEY Travel

Marriott’s CEO Just Made a Pretty Good Sales Pitch for … Airbnb?

Apartment in Barcelona, Spain offered through airbnb.
Apartment in Barcelona, Spain offered through airbnb. courtesy of airbnb

Take it from the CEO of one of the world's largest hotel companies: If you want to sample an authentic neighborhood when traveling, go with an airbnb rental, not a hotel.

The hotel industry has an uneasy relationship with the peer-to-peer lodging rental giant airbnb. Lawmakers and hotel industry lobbyists have attacked the airbnb model, accusing hosts of operating illegal hotels that don’t meet safety code regulations, and that more often than not aren’t paying taxes like they should. Data cited recently by The Economist indicates that in cities where airbnb has established a significant presence, the revenues at budget hotels decreased by 5% over a two-year period ending in December 2013. And the amount of business taken away from low-end hotels by airbnb could increase to an estimated 10% by 2016.

At the same time, people in the hotel business—particularly the midlevel and higher-end hotel business—tend to be pretty dismissive of airbnb. If folks in this world talk about airbnb and sharing economy businesses at all, it’s generally to argue that these upstarts or “disruptors” are not legitimate threats to established hotel industry players.

That’s pretty much what Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson first had to say about airbnb during an appearance on CBS This Morning this week. When asked about airbnb, Sorenson dismissively described the service as an “interesting experiment” that was “fun to watch.” It’s like what Starbucks would say of a kid who opens up a lemonade stand in front of one of its cafes: cute, but nothing whatsoever to worry about. What Sorenson said airbnb certainly was not was a genuine competitor to Marriott. By extension, he’s saying it’s not a threat to the rest of the big hotel brands out there either.

As the conversation continued, however, Sorenson wound up pointing out several of airbnb’s unique, attractive attributes—features that a regular hotel can’t compete with. “They do some things that we can’t do,” Sorenson said of airbnb. While tourist hotels tend to be found strictly in tourist areas, an airbnb rental is located, by definition, in a neighborhood where real people live. An airbnb rental is a way of trying a neighborhood on for size, without making the commitment of actually renting or buying. Referring to Manhattan, Sorenson said the thinking is, “I want to live in the East Village for a while, or I want to live in the Upper East Side for a while, and see what it feels like.”

The attraction of an airbnb rental isn’t limited to people curious about living in a given city, Sorenson said. Plenty of travelers visiting cities strictly as tourists want a taste of the authentic neighborhood life as well. “Some people love it, not just millennials but boomers” as well, said Sorenson. The mentality is: “I want to experience a neighborhood, even if I’m on vacation.”

There, in a nutshell, is one of the great arguments for skipping a hotel in favor of renting a room, apartment, or entire house from a random stranger. The other big argument, of course, is cost. An airbnb rental will almost always cost significantly less than a hotel offering around the same space for a visitor. A Priceonomics.com study published last summer showed that compared to hotels, on average, you’d save 21% by renting an entire apartment on airbnb, and 50% by renting just a room from an airbnb host.

Despite Sorenson’s comments, we probably don’t have to worry about him secretly being on airbnb’s payroll. After praising some aspects of its “interesting” model, he made it clear that sharing lodging with a stranger “is not everybody’s cup of tea,” and that many travelers “don’t want the creepiness of not knowing who my host will be.”

He also gave a plug to Marriott’s new hotel brand, Moxy, which the company designed with IKEA for millennial travelers. “We want to make sure that we have brands with increasing levels of affordability,” said Sorenson. “One of our newest brands, for instance, is Moxy, a brand we’ll open in Milan for the first time this year. It’s a reinvention of the economy lodge segment.”

The Moxy concept is aimed at young connected travelers who want a social atmosphere. Interestingly, that also happens to be a pretty good description of the typical airbnb traveler. And “a reinvention of the economy lodge segment”? That’s a phrase that sounds like it could have been pulled directly from the airbnb website.

MONEY Tech

Fake Toilet-Sharing App Rents 15 Minutes of Bathroom Time for $4

Line for the outhouse
Biddiboo—Getty Images

The motto for mock toilet-sharing app AirWC is "'Cause taking a dump doesn't mean you have to be in one."

AirWC presents itself as an airbnb for private toilets, in which those in desperate need can locate nearby facilities with a smartphone app, check out reviews left by previous “users,” and book a 15-minute session on the bowl for a reasonable $4 fee.

And yes, it’s a total gag. An Italian version of AirWC was posted on the web on the more appropriate date of April 1, and the current parody is now on the comedy site Funny or Die. Let’s just get the bathroom humor out of the way with the AirWC video put on YouTube this week:

While this is indeed a joke skewering the sharing economy, while simultaneously piling on gratuitous poop punch lines, one never knows. We live in a world where a business was launched based on the delivery of $10 worth of quarters for $15 to make it easier to do laundry, after all.

Like any good modern-day technological innovation, the AirWC app (if it was real) allows you to sign in via Facebook. “In seconds, AirWC will locate private toilets nearby—clean, and ready for you,” the video explains. Users can scroll through photos and read reviews “until you find one that meets your sphincter’s needs. Does this toilet inspire you? Does it make your bowels squirm with joy and anticipation?”

Such ad copy would surely be enough to attract the “business” of quite a few users, especially at a cost of only $4 for 15 minutes. Still, not to poo-poo the idea too much (sorry), but it would probably be a tougher sell to get homeowners on board with the idea.

MONEY Autos

Can We Stop Pretending the Sharing Economy Is All About Sharing?

Street parking in San Francisco
Good luck finding someone in San Francisco who will share a parking space out of the goodness of his heart. samc—Alamy

It sure seems like a stretch to say that selling a public parking space or renting out multiple apartments to tourists constitutes "sharing."

The “sharing economy” is the all-purpose term used to describe transactions in which someone in possession of a car, or home, or self-storage space, or commercial real estate, or almost anything else imaginable “shares” it with a stranger. But is “sharing” the right word? Sharing is something people generally do out of the goodness of their hearts, and in pretty much all sharing economy scenarios, some money is changing hands. You don’t come across too many listings at airbnb, the godfather of the sharing economy model, posted with a nightly rate of “share and share alike.”

The other popular term for this world, “peer-to-peer” business, seems more accurate, though also more cold-hearted. The latest example of the “sharing economy” phrase seeming like a stretch comes in the form of an app that allows a user to auction off a public parking space for $5, or maybe $20, occupied by his car. If your initial reaction is that this is simply unregulated, tech-enabled, supply-and-demand entrepreneurial capitalism as opposed to “sharing,” you’re not alone.

“The rub is that your parking spot isn’t really yours. It’s the city’s,” Wired wrote of the app, MonkeyParking, when it debuted in San Francisco in May. “Whereas services like Uber and Airbnb help us make use of things that would otherwise go unused — at least in theory — MonkeyParking merely lets one person grab something ahead of another. That strikes a lot of people as anti-social.”

It also strikes many as quite the opposite of sharing. And the app strikes the San Francisco city attorney as illegal. A cease-and-desist letter was sent to the app’s makers recently, and city attorney Dennis Herrera issued a statement accusing MonkeyParking of creating “a predatory private market for public parking spaces that San Franciscans will not tolerate.”

That would seem to be the end of MonkeyParking, but the app’s makers aren’t giving up without a fight. On Thursday, MonkeyParking CEO Paolo Dobrowolny issued a statement refusing to shut down the app, not on the grounds that the cease-and-desist order constitutes an infringement on sharing but because it was “an open violation of free speech.”

“I have the right to tell people if I am about to leave a parking spot, and they have the right to pay me for such information,” Dobrowolny said, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. Another San Francisco-based parking space app, Parkmondo, which also received a warning from the city, also claims that it’s simply information being sold, not publicly owned parking spaces. “The last time I checked there is no law in America that prohibits you from selling your information,” Parkmondo’s Daniel Shifrin explained to the Wall Street Journal.

Not long ago, the Chronicle also posted a report poking holes in airbnb’s “folksy” argument that the vast majority of its hosts are simply small-time “home sharers” who earn a few dollars here and there by occasionally renting out a spare room. This is a perception airbnb has presented by way of reports like one issued last summer concerning Paris, in which researchers released data points like this:

83% of Airbnb hosts rent the homes they live in to visitors on an occasional basis, and nearly half the income they make helps them to make ends meet by being spent on living expenses (rent/mortgage, utilities, and other bills).

The Chronicle report showed a different picture. After looking at 5,000 airbnb listings in the city, the paper determined that two-thirds of rentals were for entire homes or apartments—not spare rooms—and that roughly one-third of the “hosts” controlled multiple listings. The latter point indicates that these “hosts” seem a lot more like old-fashioned landlords than collaborative techie sharers.

Some of the “sharing economy” businesses are themselves being accused of using ruthless, old-fashioned money-making tactics. An Alternet post pointed out that in light of surge pricing, the lack of regulation, and labor exploitation, the ride-sharing company Uber has a lot in common with “old-school capitalist companies.” In Seattle and Los Angeles, among other places, Uber drivers—those who directly benefit from sharing economy transactions—are battling it out to get more protection and rights as employees.

Drivers for Uber and its ride-share competitor, Lyft, have also been complaining that the pay is decreasing. This is especially hard for drivers to stomach when they read about Uber being worth $17 billion. Why can’t such a valuable sharing economy business, you know, share the wealth, drivers are wondering.

While ride-share companies are being taken to task for exploiting drivers—who are independent contractors not employees, the companies claim—MonkeyParking is being accused of something worse: illegally using public property for profit, and making life even more difficult and unfair for the poor guy on the lookout for a free spot to park.

MonkeyParking sees the situation differently, of course. “It’s a fair business for anybody,” CEO Dobrowolny told the Chronicle. “It’s not just for rich people. If you think you can get that money back when you leave that parking spot, you can earn back the money when you leave the spot.”

That may very well strike you as fair. But it’s not sharing.

TIME Business

The Sharing Economy Boom Is About to Bust

Airbnb'S Value Estimated At $10 Billion After New Round Of Investments
Online home-rental marketplace Airbnb Inc. is about to receive more than $450 million in investments from a group led by private-equity firm TPG. The new investments will value the startup at $10 billion, significantly higher than some publicly traded hotel chains. Justin Sullivan—Getty Images

Startups like Airbnb and Uber are already experiencing a backlash from traditional hotel and taxi industries, all because local governments didn't anticipate the regulatory questions posed by this new economic model.

I have learned the hard way, as father to three small boys, that sharing causes conflict. Ask humans to play with the same toy at the same time, and it won’t take long for a fight to break out. The smart move is to find duplicates of that toy or, if that’s impossible, to urge interested parties to “take turns.”

That’s why I’m afraid the much-celebrated “sharing economy”—the catch-all name for “peer-to-peer” firms that connect people for the purposes of distributing, sharing, and reusing goods and services—is likely to produce more fights than profits. States could be embroiled for years in political, legal, commercial and environmental battles related to sharing.

Companies such as the ride-sharing services Lyft and Uber and the apartment-sharing service Airbnb are success stories; Airbnb is already worth more than the Hyatt or Wyndham hotel chains. In the blocks near my Santa Monica, Calif., office are dozens of such growing companies, among them Tradesy (a marketplace for women buying and selling new and gently used clothing) and DogVacay (connecting pet owners with pet sitters).

Sharing services can eliminate waste, improve efficiency, connect people to one another, and allow us to make money on extra stuff in our closets and garages. And if that’s all the sharing economy promised to do, I’d have no reason to worry. But the sharing economy is more than a business sector—it’s a movement, with the grandest of ambitions for our politics, culture and environment.

Over a couple of months of reading about and talking to people in the sharing economy, I’ve been struck frequently by the limitless ambitions of its participants and proponents. Here are just a few of those ambitions: reversing economic inequality, stopping ecological destruction, countering the materialistic tendencies of First World societies, enhancing worker rights, empowering the poor, curing cancer and reimagining our politics.

It would be easy to dismiss sharing economy hype as just more of the self-aggrandizing, self-righteous nonsense for which liberal pockets are well-known. Except that the sharing economy is already threatening to reach into every corner of our lives, from food to photography, education to finance. If that sounds like an exaggeration, consider this: venture capitalists just funded an app to help you find someone to do your laundry for you.

The best adjective to describe this kind of movement is totalitarian. As the Czech novelist Milan Kundera put it, “Totalitarianism is not only hell, but also the dream of paradise.” So my bid to watch your dog while you’re on vacation—and yours to drive me to the airport—is at once freeing and full of dangers. Who’s responsible if your dog bites my kid while in my care? What kind of car insurance, training and licensing do you need to shuttle me safely? What, if anything, do we owe to the kennel workers and cabbies who lose work? And who decides how we govern all of this?

There are so many potential conflicts—along professional, political, commercial, geographic, generational and gender lines—posed by sharing that I couldn’t list them here. To pick just one more: sharing is a threat to the general plans of virtually every city. After all, what is Airbnb if not a rezoning of residential areas into hotel space?

Of course, the movement doesn’t see itself as a starter of wars—and that may be its biggest weakness. Instead of recognizing the conflict and anger that could be produced by their efforts to transform the world, cheerleaders of the sharing economy celebrate its “disruptive” power—as well as its “sustainability.”

Whether being used by the environmental left or the anti-spending right, “sustainability” has become a vague but powerful way to dismiss somebody else’s idea without having to reckon with the particulars. “That’s unsustainable,” means it can’t go on, so why continue to discuss? It’s how we say no to anything new that might cost money or consume energy. So, naturally, almost every government or corporate bureaucracy you encounter–in California at least–has an office of sustainability.

What many states don’t have are the governance infrastructure to host the multi-front battles over sharing and sustainability that are on the horizon. Weak local governments can’t deal with all the new planning, zoning, licensing and regulatory questions posed by this new economic model. Courts are already too crowded to handle basic functions—much less a host of new claims sparked by sharing enterprises. And our political system, with its low voter participation and big money, simply can’t produce definitive, legitimate answers on the big new policy questions posed by all this sharing.

For all its promise, the sharing economy threatens to turn virtually every aspect of living into contested ground. And that’s no way to live.

Joe Mathews writes the Connecting California column for Zocalo Public Square. This piece originally appeared at Zocalo Public Square.

MONEY Tourism

7 Cities Where the Sharing Economy Is Freshly Under Attack

140529_FF_NerdWallet_Lyft_1
A Lyft car in San Francisco courtesy of Lyft

As Uber, Lyft, and airbnb expand around the globe, even smaller cities like Grand Rapids are feeling forced to regulate sharing economy businesses.

Big cities such as San Francisco and New York have been confronting the unusual tax and regulatory conundrums posed by sharing economy businesses like Lyft, Uber, and Airbnb for years. Now it’s Grand Rapids’ turn.

As rideshare services like Uber and Lyft expand rapidly around the globe, and as short-term rental operations like airbnb grow to the point of being genuine competitors to hotels, local officials don’t quite know what to make of them—and the kneejerk reaction of regulators is often to side with the tradition businesses these sharing economy services intend to disrupt.

It hasn’t helped that sharing economy businesses have been featured in a string of ugly incidents lately. There was the “XXX Freak Fest” orgy that took place when an unsuspecting tenant rented out his New York City apartment on airbnb last Month. Then there was an Uber driver accused of assault in Oklahoma City, and another Uber driver in San Francisco who was charged with hitting a passenger, and who was found to have convictions for felony drug dealing and misdemeanor battery, despite being subjected to Uber’s background check.

What’s more, no fewer than 14 states have issued warnings–fairly vague, sometimes misleading, but still scary warnings–about the insurance risks in driving or being a passenger in rideshare operations. The companies whose business models are being threatened by the sharing economy are taking action too: In Las Vegas, for instance, a local cab company posted a memo warning that it would terminate any “driver that picks up a passenger using an Uber, Lyft or Sidecar application” in a company taxi or limo. And even cities that seem more open to rideshare businesses sometimes aren’t entirely on board with how these tech companies operate. The Times-Picayune reported that the New Orleans city council is discussing new regulations that would allow Uber’s ridesharing service, but would keep certain taxi rules–such as $25 minimums for luxury sedan rides–that defy “Uber’s insistence on open market pricing.”

As for individual cities in the U.S. and Europe that are stepping up efforts to rein in or ban sharing economy businesses entirely, here are seven hot spots:

Albuquerque, New Mexico
In late May, the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission voted unanimously to order the ridesharing service Lyft to cease operations in the state. Why? The same reason most often cited against ridesharing companies: They’re accused of being commercial taxi services whose drivers don’t have the appropriate licenses and certificates, and who haven’t paid the same fees as taxis. The commission warned Lyft and its drivers that each violation is subjected to a fine up to $10,000.

Barcelona, Spain
After being pressured by taxi companies and hotels, among others, officials in Barcelona are trying to crack down on Uber and airbnb and other sharing economy businesses, with tough fines for unlicensed drivers and a temporary freeze on licenses for owners who want to rent apartments as tourist lodging.

Brussels, Belgium
Uber launched in Brussels in February, and in April, officials banned the service in the city, threatening to hit drivers with a €10,000 fine for picking up a passenger via the app.

Buffalo, New York
A month after Lyft introduced its rideshare service in Buffalo in late April, the city’s director of permits and inspections recommended that police issue summonses to Lyft drivers, who he has determined to be the equivalent of unlicensed livery cab drivers. He also threatened that cars used in rideshare operations could be impounded.

Grand Rapids, Michigan
Strict new regulations are being proposed for owners who want to rent rooms via airbnb or other short-term services. If accepted, a homeowner would have to pay $291 for a license, the home must be owner-occupied in order to advertise room rentals (i.e., no vacation rentals), and only one room in the home can be rented at a time. Also, the city would grant no more than 200 licenses, and owners would have to notify all neighbors within 300 feet of the property about the rental situation. As tough as these rules seem, they could have been worse: A year ago, Grand Rapids was suggesting that homeowners would have to pay $2,000 for a license to advertise and rent via airbnb.

Kansas City, Missouri
Police began issuing tickets to Lyft drivers in Kansas City soon after the service was launched in late April. City officials had deemed that the rideshare service was illegal because drivers hadn’t gone through the training and certification required of taxi drivers. After some legal maneuvering, Lyft is still in action in the city, and a lengthy court battle is expected before the situation is settled.

Malibu, California
The Malibu city council recent voted in favor of issuing subpoenas to over 60 short-term lodging rental websites, including airbnb, according to the Los Angeles Times. There are hundreds of ads for short-term vacation rentals in Malibu, but only around 50 are officially registered with the city and pay the same 12% tax that hotels pay. Officials want to make sure that the city isn’t missing out on hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxes from other rentals. They’re also hoping to crack down on the “party house” atmosphere in neighborhoods that have become popular for vacation rentals.

TIME Airbnb

Airbnb Sending Anonymized User Data to New York’s Top Lawyer

Airbnb has agreed to share anonymous data with the Attorney General's Office, which can then request further data on individual hosts.

Airbnb, a service that effectively lets people turn their homes into private hotels, has agreed to share anonymous user data about all of its New York hosts with New York’s Attorney General.

The agreement comes after New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s second subpoena against the startup. The information being shared won’t include names, addresses or other personal data. The Attorney General’s Office will review the anonymous data for one year, and may request further information on individual hosts.

Does this mean the government will come knocking if you host through Airbnb on occasion? Probably not, at least according to Airbnb’s blog post.

“We believe the Attorney General’s Office is focused on large corporate property managers and hosts who take apartments off the market and disrupt communities,” Airbnb wrote. “We have already removed more than 2,000 listings in New York and believe that many of the hosts the Attorney General is concerned about are no longer a part of Airbnb.”

Airbnb has come under attack from lawmakers in New York and San Francisco, some of whom feel the service should be subject to the same laws–and taxes–as hotels. In San Francisco, a proposed bill would set some ground rules for services like Airbnb, such as allowing people to rent only their primary residences through the site.

Airbnb says it’s pleased with the agreement in New York, but said in a statement “there is so much yet to be done” in working with governments around the world.

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