Why the sharing economy and mega-cities need to get it together

Cities and sharing services. Can you please get your shit together so this taxi driver has a job?

On my way to Mexico City, every customs officer offered me the same unsolicited advice, “be safe, be careful, and don’t trust easily.”

It’s common to have a sense of trepidation when trekking through an underdeveloped global cities, but any fear I had was pacified by my use of sharing services.

In my time in the largest metropolitan area in North America, I was taken around by Alex, an Uber driver who was formally an auto-mechanic for some of the largest car dealers. At my HomeAway rental I met Roy, a recent business studies graduate who showed me which areas to avoid and which hidden gastronomy gems to visit. Through AirBnB I met Axel, a global chef, for a taco tour throughout the city and Journey Mexico, a social impact tourism organization, connected me with Cynthia as we strolled through her hometown to view the town’s bustling art scene.

As urban areas become more dynamic, and a traditional low-skilled and un-technical labor becomes an ancient endeavor, it is imperative for urban areas to smooth out their approach with sharing services.

Unfortunately, major sharing economy titans have concocted an antagonistic strategy towards metropolises. Uber, has had an openly contentious relationship with cities from the start. During a deposition in D.C., former Uber head, Travis Kalanick, wore an outfit meant for a night out and not a legal hearing. The now ousted CEO snarked and scoffed throughout the entire deposition (something he later apologized for). Further, all ride hailing services have failed to provide a sound background check system for its drivers and have refused to share any information on their employees.

AirBnB, the online marketplace for short-term lodging, has also deployed a lackluster tactic to engage with civic institutions. Their response to open discriminatory host behavior racial discrimination was underwhelming. The housing hub has also taken a combative approach with cities dismissing any impact they might have on hotels, local businesses, and certain neighborhoods.

This is a mistake.

Granted, lobbyist and backward thinking bureaucrats have been a major hurdle for a productive rapport between both groups as well. And in defense of the found fathers of sharing services, all companies mentioned have a public policy division in attempt to create a healthier municipal connection. However, all parties are missing out on commercial and cultural goldmine.

Burgeoning global cities have all the variables to be a mecca for sharing services: a young population in sync with the latest technology, sprawling areas where posh spots have little accessibility through public transportation, high volume of tourists, and a plethora of intelligent and skilled individuals in search of more income.

Most municipalities have abandoned their efforts to squash sharing conglomerates, but more can be done to capitalize on these services. The AirBnB, HomeAway (another housing rental platform), Lyft, and Ubers of the world should create a more proactive, rather than reactive, partnership with major metro areas (currently only 16% of major cities do). A public-private digital job bulletin should be formed for locals to easily find employment opportunities through these tech companies. Moreover, Uber and Lyft should develop programs to train locals to drive and farm out more rental cars as they’ve done in North America.

City public servants should spend more time understanding the impact these organizations have on their transportation system, revenue stream, nightlife trends, and culture. Further, more cities should device a tax collection and regulatory framework that is designed solely for this industry (roughly 5% have done so).

More importantly, a culture of trust should be established to share data. Cities could utilize ride sharing and rental insights to better inform development and transportation planning.

Solutions like these can be advantageous for all stakeholders.

For companies like Uber and AirBnB, a strong and more diplomatic approach towards cities can help both organizations re-build their image. Further, CityLab reported there is additional revenue in every major metropolis for these platforms.

For cities, a better bond between shared services is also a net positive. Governments can drop expensive, and lengthy legal battles against businesses that are not going anywhere. Further, resources can be diverted towards constructing a more robust job opportunity platform with much less expenditure. Additionally, visitors can connect more with locals giving them a more humane and realistic sense of the areas traditions and cultures.

A healthy rapport between cities and sharing economy services can also help locals. The world is changing, and many are being left out by a more digitized and high skilled economy. The shared service space might be there rare exception where disrupting innovation provides more opportunity for those at the bottom of the pyramid than the top.

Over a week, I was able to see Mexico City through the eyes of a local chef, journalist, and artist. My experience of this beautiful city would not be as vibrant and insightful without their presence. Further, my lengthy conversations with countless Uber drivers reminded me of the enormous challenges citizens of mega-cities face in the 21st century.

Cities and shared should subdue their resentment towards each other, because if they do, an enormous opportunity awaits both them and the people they serve.

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