Friday, 20 May 2016

On Uber: How sharing is "the sharing economy"? - The Post-Occupy economy:Part 1

With the last most serious for a long, long time collapse of the mainstream economy in 2008, from which societies around the world have still not recovered, a whole set of alternative economic models once again (few of these are genuinely new) have been judged worthy of public discussion and in some cases behaviourally implemented. One such change idea addresses that most iconic pillar of North American adulthood: the privately owned, and used, car. 

In 2016 carsharing" has become an increasingly prominent fact of life in many cties. The young, in particular, for a variety of reasons including financial (limited budgets) and cultural (the relative unimportance to many millennials of cars compared to smartphones), are making personal automobile ownership a deferred option rather than an adolescent rite/right. In the meantime young professionals, and many others in inner cities, where car ownership is increasingly fraught, are exploring alternatives. Biking has returned as a viable personal travel mode for some. Sharing cars is another. And there we find two versions - what we may call "sharing cars" (e.g. Uber) and carsharing as in Community Carshare, Kitchener based Ontrario's first, in 1998, Commun-Auto, the equivalent in Quebec, and many others around the world.   
Image result for carsharing

The Uber taxi application has recently been prominent in injecting this  topic into media attention. But Uber is being increasingly referred to as an example of the so-called "sharing economy" that has emerged since the Great Recession of 2008. It can  be argued that Uber is an example of a less wasteful economy, since data show that most private automobiles spend most of their time idle in parking lots or garages and even when driven cover less than 2 kilometers per trip. Why not make cars available to others at times when it would otherwise be idle?  

Well, if environmental concerns are key priorities at this time, then it may be that the car does more social good by being driven less, not more. And since Uber drivers are being paid for driving then arguably the Uber application adds to pollution by motivating more use.  For the same reason the use of the word "sharing" to describe Uber, is, if not consciously misleading, then definitely inaccurate. What is happening with Uber is in fact private care rental, not sharing at all, and therefore Uber represents nothing new or progressive in addressing our polluted and individualistic North American culture.

But if Uber is not the answer to anything there is another option that is genuinely creative and proigressive. It's called "carsharing" and it is growing dramatically in Ontario and elsewhere since it emerged as a non-profit co-operative in Kitchener-Waterloo in 1998. Carsharing requires a community group who commit to using a number of in common cars in their neighbourhood on a more or less occasional basis. They pay a membership fee and adopt a governance model for managing the fleet. Some of these enterprises are for-profit, others, like Community Carshare, are not. Some, again like  Community Carshare, are co-operatives, and some, like Autoshare in Toronto, are not. Some, like the now worldwide Zipcars, are corporate for profit businesses, others are not. What they have in common is the provision of car use convenience at a time when traditional models of private ownership are more and more challenged. What potential users should reflect on before becoming carsharers is what form of carsharing contributes to a better society for all. At least one of the primary original  benefits of carsharing has is to reduce the number of cars on our roads, and thus to reduce the toll in injury, death and pollution that accompany car  use. But there are  others, like community development, social solidarity, respect and conservation,

Based on the values they represent, TorontotheBetter has invited some, but not all, area car sharing organizations, to join us since early in our existence, 10 years ago. Most 21st century lives require car use from time to time, Carsharing, has at least made the way we use the car an open question for a increasing numbers of citizens. 

PLEASE NOTE: in the interests of full disclosure the writer of this post was formerly a member of the board of People's Car, now Community Carshare, of which he is a member, but currently has no position in , or derives any financial benefit, thereby. 

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