Car Sharing vs. Home Sharing
By Keith Freedman, Policy Chair of Home Sharers Democratic Club
The correlation between Airbnb, and other short-term rental platforms, and ride sharing services such as Uber or Lyft is a fallacy. People lump them together as “gig” or “sharing economy” businesses, but they are completely different and have different impacts on their communities and on their participants.
Historically, cities have had some sort of car service. It’s advantageous to have point-to-point vehicle service as part of a city’s overall public transit plan. If you can support taxi-like services effectively, then you can save a lot of money for both citizens, and the cities. Having fewer people owning cars is good. Having fewer people driving is good. Having fewer people parking is good.
Here in San Francisco, there was a report about a year ago wherein they determined that more than one-third (1/3) of all traffic was comprised of people looking for parking. If they took Uber instead, traffic gets better and more efficient, public transit gets better and more efficient, and fewer different people are driving on the road at the same moment.
As stated, cities have long had some sort of taxi/car service in place. Now, they just are upset at Uber because it makes it harder for the cities to get a piece of the financial pie, and potentially to be regulated — although in the Taxi industry, most of the regulation was around artificially reducing supply in order to maintain an unreasonably high price point.
Yet for AirBnB/VRBO/FlipKey/Craigslist, etc., the impact is different. In this case it’s, generally, utilizing a space that’s otherwise vacant and adding zero value to the local community or economy. When a kid goes to college, their bedroom sits empty. If, suddenly, those parents can make some money renting it to visitors, there are positive aspects: they can better pay for college, visitors likely spend more money in the local shops than that college student would have had they stayed home, and the tourist gets a more personal experience for often a less expensive rate than a hotel.
Drivers and hosts benefit differently as well. And their work and participation in creating the customers’ experiences are very different.
The main similarity between the two industries might be the flexibility it provides, by allowing people to choose or control when they work, i.e. driving a fare or hosting a guest. Another might be that people are using their own property to provide a service that has typically been delivered through corporate-owned property, such as a hotel chain or a more established taxi service. This benefits the individual, rather than a corporation’s shareholders or bottom line.
Granted, hosts and drivers (and, possibly, guests and passengers) take some risks by having “strangers” in their house or car, but both have platforms that mitigate this risk via new technology, data, and information about who people are, and where they are located. Those similarities have little to do with each industry’s actual activity, and their perceived impacts on cities and neighborhoods. To speak of them together as parallel businesses is misrepresenting them both, and offers little value.