Renting isn't sharing - Page 6

Share conference outlines the possibilities and pitfalls for a new economy at the crossroads

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Green for All's Nikki Silvestri and venture capitalist Ron Conway
GUARDIAN PHOTOS BY TIM DAW

And remember, this is a company that is already having a profound impact on the regulated taxi industry — of which Sandararajan said, "I think the taxi service as we know it will largely cease to exist in a few years" — just as other sharing economy companies steal market share from other industries, as Airbnb is doing to the hotel industry, also while avoiding taxes on those transactions.

 

FROM TALK TO ACTION

"One of the things we like to do in the sharing economy is talk about the sharing economy — a lot!" Jesse Biroscak, an Airbnb host and founder of BayShare, said during a session at Share entitled "Shareable Cities: From Concept to Action."

It was the first thing I heard upon arriving at the conference, but I already knew it was true after covering this movement over the last couple years, a point that was emphasized strongly by the excited evangelism that I heard again and again over the next 24 hours.

But for all the talk that those in the so-called sharing economy do about the sharing economy, there is often a deliberate vagueness to it that tries to mask its many contradictions and paradoxes.

Its biggest proponents are anxious to go big — defined by a strange mix of idealism (for environmentalism, libertarianism, economic and social equity, and an odd and often contradictory assortment of other goals) and the desire to cash in on the new gold rush — before the opportunities slip away (thanks to competitors, government regulators, or an economic downturn).

"I'm tired of talking about it, I want to do things," said Biroscak, a regular Airbnb host from San Francisco, without ever really defining the things he wants to do.

BayShare also seems to have a vagueness of purpose, defining itself on its slick website as "an organization whose mission is to make the Bay Area the best place on the planet for sharing. As this movement grows, BayShare will explore how city stakeholders and the sharing community can work together to help the Sharing Economy flourish in the Bay Area to benefit the city, businesses, and communities. The organization looks to be a resource for the Mayor's Working Group on the Sharing Economy."

But that working group, which Mayor Ed Lee announced when Treasurer Jose Cisneros was holding hearings two years ago to determine whether Airbnb and other companies should pay the city's transient occupancy tax, never actually convened. It was simply a stall tactic that evaporated after Cisneros ruled that the tax was indeed owed.

Still, BayShare lists many of the biggest sharing economy companies among its "members," including Airbnb, RelayRides, Lyft, Yerdle, Vayable, City Car Share, Suppershare, and Get My Boat. Biroscak described the advocacy work that he and BayShare do, work that he urged all of the attendees to get involved with, so that public agencies understand and support this growing economic sector.

"This is called lobbying, and that's okay. Lobbying is not a dirty word," Biroscak told the crowd.

Lobbying may not be a dirty word, but it is a regulated activity in San Francisco and other cities, and neither Biroscak nor BayShare are registered lobbyists with the San Francisco Ethics Commission, which they should be if they are indeed lobbying.

Biroscak even boasted of a partnership with the San Francisco Department of Emergency Management that BayShare secured last year on behalf of its member companies to provide their services to local residents in the event of an emergency.

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