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How the Sharing Economy Works

        Money | Economics

Future of the Sharing Economy
Black taxi drivers protesting against taxi service app Uber brought central London to a standstill in June 2014.  Ironically, the strike caused an eight-fold increase in the number of people using Uber that day.
Black taxi drivers protesting against taxi service app Uber brought central London to a standstill in June 2014. Ironically, the strike caused an eight-fold increase in the number of people using Uber that day.
© Mike Kemp/In Pictures/Corbis

The future of the sharing economy largely depends on upstart websites striking deals with federal, state and local regulators. Airbnb and Uber, the two biggest names in the sharing economy, have come under fire for flouting laws that regulate the hotel and taxi industries. Leading the charge are the hotels and taxi drivers themselves, who complain that "sharers" don't have to buy special licenses, undergo inspections and pay taxes that the professionals do, even as they provide the very same services.

In New York City, the state attorney general found that 30 percent of Airbnb property owners in New York City offered multiple listings, a sign that landlords were turning entire buildings into "illegal hotels" [source: The New York Times]. In cities like San Francisco and Portland, Airbnb has agreed to levy a hotel tax on every rental, but some are still blaming Airbnb property owners for shrinking the long-term rental market and driving up prices [source: Said].

Ride-sharing companies Uber and Lyft are in equally hot water with state regulators over what they see as companies profiting from fleets of unlicensed, uninsured taxi drivers. Municipalities from Brussels to Buffalo, New York, have banned ride-sharing services on their streets [source: Tuttle]. Ride-sharing supporters argue that America's cities are in the grip of outdated taxi "cartels" that profit greatly from limited competition [source: Chapman].

Something else that may impact the future of the sharing economy is the future of the regular economy. Some critics of the sharing economy argue that we're only interested in sharing because we don't have the money to buy anything. And when jobs are scarce, we're willing to drive around picking up strangers for money [source: Le Tellier]. If the economy picks up, people might opt for ownership again.

The strongholds of the sharing economy are cities with a high volume of young, tech-savvy, well-educated people. San Francisco is ground zero. It requires a certain critical mass of users for these sharing services to function, and it remains to be seen whether smaller cities or rural areas are even interested. In some places, after all, you can still borrow a weed whacker for free from a non-virtual neighbor.

For lots more information on Airbnb, car-sharing and more industry shattering ideas, check out the related HowStuffWorks links on the next page.


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