Recently, I asked for the public’s thoughts on the sharing economy.
I also met SharingEconomyUK, an industry body representing companies such as Uber, Airbnb, Zipcar, TaskRabbit, Liftshare, Deliveroo, Gumtree and many more.
What I heard was a combination of excitement and concerns. There was plenty of optimism about the convenience of new services such as Uber or AirBnB, but there were also concerns over perceptions of tax avoidance or exploitation of workers.
This is understandable in such new and fast-changing sectors where early movers are often likened to frontiersmen and women trying to stake out their patch of turf.
Startups not only overcome barriers to entry, but also have the potential to wipe out existing companies, while perhaps using innovative algorithms to erect new barriers elsewhere. This is the nature of disrupters.
However, these companies have to be seen to be providing a decent service if they want to gain public confidence.
While some criticism is deserved, some of the sharing economy companies feel unfairly depicted as “lawless” by disgruntled competitors, customers and employees.
A frequent accusation against Uber is that its drivers are unregulated and unchecked. This is simply wrong. All drivers go through enhanced checks carried out by the government’s official Disclosure and Barring Service. Uber also checks drivers’ penalty points and monitors performance.
Indeed there is a strong argument that technology has improved our personal safety. Uber, other car sharing and taxi apps allow users to know in advance the name of the driver, car registration, when the car will arrive and what the price should be. You can share trip details with friends, track the journey on GPS and make your payment cash-free.
Another concern is loitering drivers waiting for trade. I was pleased to hear that firms take this seriously and want the public to tell them of problems.
A further tricky question for firms competing with taxi and mini cabs is whether they should be required to offer a quota of disabled access vehicles? Uber claims that disabled customers have to wait for about 10 minutes for a suitably equipped car. While it would be good to see this fall, it is arguably similar in cost and time to calling minicab from a local office, though not as immediate as hailing a black cab.