Sharing NYC – Episode 2

Photo Credit: Ivelin Radkov

Photo Credit: Ivelin Radkov

Welcome back to the reflections on the New York City experience! Episode 1 showed the other side of the sharing economy, which is more linked to the economic struggles of the society than usually thought. Now let us have a deeper look into this reality.

The NYC directory of sharing economy organizations tells an interesting story about the needs of the New Yorkers. The directory is divided into 15 thematic sections and strikingly, the three longest lists are “Space” (25 organizations), “On-demand services” (18 organizations), and “Transport” (13 organizations), which together amount for almost 50% of the total. This does not come as a surprise if we think about Manhattan: a crowded and congested place, where people are always in a rush. It is the standard stereotype of the biggest American cities, but New York certainly epitomizes this characteristic.

Many of the organizations of the above-mentioned directory are actually solving most of the daily problems that living in New York City provokes. That is the reason why they are so famous and widespread. In fact, the operational model they are implementing in New York is replicable elsewhere, and sharing economy organizations like Airbnb and Uber are known – and used – worldwide.

The capacity of finding unexplored market niches is outstanding. If some of these sharing economy organizations are classical in terms of the service provided, others are quite bizarre! Do you need to hire someone to stand in line for restaurants or special events for you? Taskrabbit is the solution. Do you want to show off each month different luxury watches and ties? Eleven James and Freshneck will fulfil your wishes.

As previously noted, these sharing models are based on the match between a tiny/non-existent supply and a large potential demand, and on the assumption that trust is the “fuel” that ensures the correct functioning of the machine. Nevertheless, these models are not infallible and the first signs of dissatisfaction by users (but not only) have appeared. Quality has been often questioned and complaints rarely result in a disciplinary action or in a constructive solution. The problem primarily lies in the lack of a regulatory framework for these “sharing” experiments. Self-regulation has been invoked several times, but, as of now, it has not brought a definitive solution.

There are two main dilemmas and the case study of Uber will explain both of them. First, it is unclear (and not regulated properly) the relationship between users and providers of the service/good. Formally, drivers are not agents of the company and “Uber and its fellow service providers do not assign passengers to drivers nor control the conduct of the drivers. Rather, ride-sharing companies purport only to provide an “interactive computer service” through which a driver and a passenger may engage in a direct deal” (St Aubin Keith, 2014). From there, a question of civil liability arises and as of now, it is unlikely that Uber will be held accountable to victims of accidents.

Secondly, Uber undermines regular taxi drivers, who respect tougher regulation and earn much less. Since 2011, 12.000 cars have invaded New York apparently to enlarge the service to neighbourhoods usually outside the yellow cabs’ zone, but numbers speak clear. “In April, according to city data requisitioned from the company, of the roughly 76,000 New York City pickups Uber made on the average day, about 63,000 were in central Manhattan” (New York Times, 26/07/15). Substantially, they invaded the yellow cabs’ zone. This comes at the expense of regular taxi drivers who earn less and less money, and who thus accuse Uber of “economic terrorism”.

However, maybe the solution to these dilemmas is near. Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed a State-wide regulatory framework for Uber (Observer, 23/07/15). On the one hand, it will not restrict job growth, while on the other it will provide the necessary norms for the service to operate rightly and safely.

If you are interested in this topic and to urban commons then SAVE THE DATE! LabGov is proud to announce that “The City as a Commons: Reconceiving Urban Space, Common Goods and City Governance” will be the theme of the first IASC Conference to be held on 6-7 November 2015 in Bologna, Italy. The conference will be co-chaired by Prof. Christian Iaione (LUISS Guido Carli and UniMarconi University) and by Prof. Sheila Foster (Fordham University), and it will develop along 6 different tracks. These thematic areas will be examined in two full days of plenary panels, keynote presentations, and parallel sessions with selected papers from a call for papers. The conference will conclude with a roundtable discussion intended to reflect on the methods and future directions for urban commons research. The second track will be “Mapping the Urban Commons”. What institutions with private-public partnerships might be considered an urban commons institution? What are the key research questions and methodologies to analyse these case-studies? If you wish to hear the answer to these questions by international experts, then come attending the conference!