March 4, 2019
Just under a year ago, car-sharing service Car2Go suspended operations in Toronto, frustrating the 80,000 Torontonians who used the service. The company blamed its departure on the city’s parking regulations, which it says are too restrictive for its “free-floating” car-share model.
Others have raised concerns regarding the potential for increased congestion, reduced transit use and what they see as the unethical employment practices of profit-driven ride-sourcing companies. While the provincial government introduced legislation in November 2018 to bring ride-sourcing to BC by late 2019, many details on its implementation remain to be hashed out.
As the popularity and demand for services offered by global digital platforms increase, policymakers across the world are grappling with the disruptions that have accompanied their rise. “Sharing economy” services have provided increased flexibility and choices for consumers. However, the rise of global platforms has also sparked a host of concerns ranging from their contribution to rising inequality and unfair employment practices, to worries about their impact on public safety, health and the environment.
As Canadian policymakers attempt to reconcile goals such as increased flexibility and more choices for citizens, public safety, sustainability and equity, they can benefit from looking to other jurisdictions for ideas on how to proactively engage with the sharing economy.
As part of a larger research project conducted in 2017-18, the Mowat Centre carried out a jurisdictional scan to identify sharing economy best practices from across the world. In this TLDR, we highlight lessons from two cities – Amsterdam and Seoul – that have sought to advance local priorities through sharing, and have tried to deal with the growing influence of digital platforms in very different ways.
Amsterdam and Seoul demonstrate that governments can proactively steer their sharing economies in a positive direction to advance goals such as economic development, inclusion, sustainability and social connectedness.
Amsterdam, The Netherlands
The City of Amsterdam has taken a cooperative, rather than combative, approach to the disruption caused by global platforms, and has worked with them to advance its goals. In 2015, the city launched its Action Plan for the Sharing Economy. The Plan’s approach is “don’t ban and authorise but rather monitor and seize opportunities”. Some of Amsterdam’s key initiatives include:
- Amsterdam was the first city in Europe to sign an agreement with Airbnb. The short-term rental platform now has the responsibility for collecting tourism taxes, ensuring that only registered hosts post on the site, and monitoring hosts so that they do not exceed the 60-day annual limit on short-term rentals. The city also has a data-sharing agreement with Airbnb that requires the company to share aggregated data that allows the government to assess the impact of home sharing and helps it with urban planning.
- To ensure that the sharing economy is inclusive, Amsterdam has combined its “City Pass” for low-income and elderly residents with various sharing economy services such as meal-sharing services where low-income residents can get healthy and affordable home-cooked meals. The city has also taken steps to raise awareness of sharing services amongst low-income residents, and demonstrate to them that the sharing economy is for the benefit of all citizens.
- The city also does not want to see the “sharing economy” being limited to the “platform economy”. This means that apart from regulating large global platforms, a key focus is on promoting local sharing initiatives. An example is Vandebron, a platform that connects independent renewable energy producers directly to consumers, and empowers them to make informed and sustainable choices about the type of energy they want to buy. The platform currently has about 100,000 customers and 100 suppliers across the country. These suppliers range from windfarm cooperatives, to farmers, to citizens with home solar panels who sell excess energy to others through the platform. Another example is Peerby – an app that lets people borrow things they need from others in their neighbourhood, thereby maximizing the use of items, such as tools, that people use infrequently.
Seoul, South Korea
Like Amsterdam, Seoul has made significant efforts to promote sharing in the city. Unlike Amsterdam, however, it has tended to be more restrictive towards global platforms like Uber and Airbnb. Instead, the city has focused on creating contextually relevant and culturally appropriate sharing initiatives that put local priorities and public interest first, often by supporting local start-ups. Some examples include car-sharing services like Socar and Greencar, and innovative projects like “the open closet” which lets young jobseekers borrow formal clothes from seniors and receive encouraging messages. Seoul has also pioneered a matching service that connects young people seeking accommodation with seniors who have spare rooms in their homes as a means of addressing the lack of affordable student housing while also tackling social isolation among seniors by promoting inter-generational interaction.
These measures seem to be popular – Seoul saw citizen participation in sharing services increase by about five hundred per cent between 2014 and 2016. Some notable steps taken by the government to promote sharing include:
- Seoul has established an online platform called “ShareHub” as part of its Sharing City Seoul initiative. ShareHub connects citizens with sharing services and provides information on sharing projects. Another online platform is the Seoul Open Data Plaza. Launched in 2012, it provides access to socially and economically valuable data for citizens and the private sector to develop relevant business and community initiatives.
- Seoul has proactively worked to update existing legislation in areas such as transportation, tourism and taxation to facilitate its sharing economy. The city also enacted an Ordinance on the Promotion of Sharing that provides a legal foundation for its Sharing City Seoul program. It defines sharing as “activities that create social, economic and environmental values by jointly using resources, such as space, goods, information, talent and experience.”
- The city has also created an Advisory Committee on the Improvement of Sharing Institutions that is tasked with identifying existing laws and institutions that present obstacles to sharing, and proposing ways to overcome them. In addition, a Sharing Promotion Committee advises the government on developing policies and selecting projects, while also coaching companies that are building sharing services.
- To increase participation and promote innovation in its sharing economy, Seoul’s government provides start-up incubation and financial support to promising sharing businesses. It has also created a Sharing Economy Start-up School to support entrepreneurs with their sharing businesses.
While Amsterdam and Seoul have taken unique approaches to their sharing economies, there are some thematic threads common to both. For instance, both cities have led by example by sharing city-owned assets. In Seoul, over 1,200 public buildings are available for events and meetings outside regular business hours. Amsterdam is currently piloting free rentals in idle city-owned spaces for organizations working for social purposes.
To encourage citizens to share, both cities have conducted extensive public awareness and engagement campaigns to ensure that people understand the difference between commercial sharing activities (particularly using digital platforms) and non-commercial sharing. Both cities have also sought to shift attitudes away from consumerism and towards sharing as a way of reducing waste and increasing social connectedness.
An additional feature of these cities is that they acknowledge that global problems require global solutions. Amsterdam and Seoul are both part of the Sharing Cities Alliance, an initiative of the Amsterdam-based organization ShareNL. The purpose of the Alliance is to share knowledge and ideas for creating healthy sharing economies (Toronto is also part of this alliance). At the same time, both Seoul and Amsterdam maintain distinctly local flavours in their sharing economies by keeping local priorities at the core.
Lessons for Canada
Policymakers in Canada have much to learn from the examples set by Amsterdam and Seoul. While the disruptions caused by global platforms can force policymakers into a reactionary posture, Amsterdam and Seoul demonstrate that governments can proactively steer their sharing economies in a positive direction to advance goals such as economic development, inclusion, sustainability and social connectedness.
A critical lesson to draw from the experience of these two cities is the importance of not equating the “sharing economy” solely with global platforms. Rather, governments should take a broader view of the sharing economy that is people-centred and people-driven. This does not necessarily mean banning global platforms, but ensuring that their activities are compatible with local priorities, and even leveraging them to help meet local goals.
A Canadian example of what the latter could look like can be seen in the Town of Innisfil, Ontario. Innisfil is a growing town to the north of Toronto with a moderate to low population density. While residents were increasingly demanding that the town provide public transit, traditional options, such as a fixed bus route, were too costly and would provide only limited service. To expand its transit offerings in a cost-efficient manner, the town partnered with Uber on an innovative pilot project so that residents can call an Uber on-demand (or a local taxi for accessible rides) and, for $3-5, be driven to key destinations. While the initial stages of the project have been lauded as a great success, concerns have been raised about the viability of a partnership with a for-profit platform as a solution to the town’s long-term transit challenges.
To Sum up…
While policymakers can expect to face new challenges with emerging technologies and changing circumstances, keeping some key foundational principles at the heart of all sharing activities can help safeguard the public interest. These principles include putting the wellbeing and priorities of local communities at the forefront, supporting and promoting promising local initiatives, and ensuring that sharing activities are sustainable, safe and equitable.
Building a successful sharing economy is not easy – it takes effort and vision. As demonstrated by cities such as Amsterdam and Seoul, proactive approaches to sharing that are focused on local needs can contribute to the creation of positive sharing economies that are inclusive, prosperous, innovative and sustainable.