Report: Local Governments and the Sharing Economy

How do local governments strategically engage with the Sharing Economy to foster more sustainable cities?
While sharing has always been part of city life, there is an acceleration in the past few years of Sharing Economy activities from bike sharing to short-term rental accommodation to neighbourhood swaps to ride-sharing.  Some activities are disrupting industry sectors including taxis and hotels and posing challenges for policymakers as to how to respond.
There are city governments that are leading the way:

  • In Montréal, Québec – Société de Transport de Montréal is creating an integrated mobility approach that combines public transit buses and metro with taxis, ride sharing, bike sharing, car sharing, car pooling and rail,
  • Austin, Texas requires all short-term rental accommodation operators (including with Airbnb) to purchase licenses and remit a hotel occupancy tax to the city from clients,
  • Vancouver, British Columbia is developing an integrated strategy for engaging with the Sharing Economy building on its past efforts – supporting car-sharing, grants for Sharing research and startups, and providing space for sharing in parks, community centres and public lands,
  • Hennepin County,Minnesota coordinates fix-it clinics that reduce waste and build social connection through repairing goods, and
  • The Cities of Toronto, Brampton, Mississauga, York Region and the Region of Peel, Ontario are supporting business-to-business sharing through Partners in Project Green Materials Exchange Network.

The Local Governments and the Sharing Economy roadmap explores other possible roles for municipalities and provides examples from North America and around the world. It describes a sustainability filter which the authors use to analyze shared mobility, spaces, and goods and community sharing, and to take a lighter look at shared food and energy.
This roadmap was developed and written by One Earth supported by a grant from The J. W. McConnell Family Foundation as part of the Cities for People initiative. The One Earth team is grateful to the expert advisors and the advisory committee of eight Canadian and US member cities of the Urban Sustainability Directors Network.
There are three key messages in the roadmap:

  1. The Sharing Economy is not inherently sustainable but cities can help to make it more so.
  2. Community sharing is a promising area where local governments can play proactive, enabling roles.
  3. Addressing data gaps is critical for understanding sustainability impacts on cities.

Below is an excerpt from the roadmap.
Download the summary (36 pages in English and French) and the full report (216 pages in English):
Excerpt: Pages 9 – 10 of the Local Governments and Sharing Economy Roadmap:
Not unlike the printing press and the Internet, the Sharing Economy promises to evoke profound cultural and economic shifts. It spreads across almost every sector of the economy, challenging many traditional business and organizational models. It involves people from all walks of life, and is giving rise to powerful new lobby groups who may or may not align with sustainable city priorities. Which Sharing Economy actors and activities are advancing the public good and sustainability is a critical question.
By creating a definition of the Sharing Economy that includes five categories of actors, we explore the digitally enabled, for-profit companies and start-ups that are dominant in the mainstream media. But we also look beyond these actors as there is a lot more to the Sharing Economy than Airbnb and Uber and new, for-profit ventures. There are also non-profit, social enterprise / cooperative, community sharing innovators, and public sector entities that are part of the Sharing Economy.
Sharing Economy activities do not automatically advance urban sustainability. This roadmap analyzes which Sharing Economy activities advance living within ecological means first and then considers other sustainability dimensions – resilience, natural systems, equity, prosperous local economies and quality of life.
Local governments should care about the Sharing Economy because it could…

  • Reduce ecological footprints of city inhabitants and wasteful practices
  • Save local government money
  • Create jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities
  • Advance social connectivity and ‘social capital’
  • Spur social innovation
  • Lower the cost of education, collaboration, and research, and
  • Reduce our need to acquire material things to earn status or social distinction

But without thoughtful checks, it could also….

  • Appear to reduce overall consumption while simply shifting it from one sector or activity to another
  • Increase ecological and carbon footprints by growing the volume of vehicle traffic, travel, and consumer demand
  • Erode the tax base as more economic transactions take place outside of spheres subject to accountability
  • Negatively impact people not directly involved in Sharing Economy exchanges
  • Push local wages and benefits down
  • Erode the supply of affordable rental housing
  • Exacerbate inequality as status is redefined by access to resources rather than ownership

This roadmap serves to support local governments in making strategic decisions that support those activities of the Sharing Economy that create better cities and that foster human and ecological wellbeing.
Read more:
Find out about the February 2014 April Rinne Collaborative Economy Tour of Canada hosted by Social Innovation Generation and Cities for People: