The Sentiment On Sharing Is Shifting

Editor’s note: Brooks Rainwater is the director and Nicole DuPuis is the senior associate for infrastructure of the Center for City Solutions and Applied Research at the National League of Cities

Cities make the sharing economy work. The overall sentiment toward sharing is shifting as traditional industries are upended and local regulatory environments are disrupted, while the sharing economy serves as a bulwark for innovation and growth — at the same time.

Residents crave collaborative opportunities while expecting on-demand services at their beck and call. When it comes to cities and the sharing economy, emerging models for how to incorporate ridesharing and homesharing are developing, but the newness of this issue still precludes long-term tested best practices. Additionally, there is no one-size-fits-all regulatory solution, because one of the true innovations in cities is always the ability to experiment and come up with solutions that work best for the local context.

These days though, it’s hard to scan the news without coming across the words Uber, Lyft, or Airbnb. And, cities are interested in finding out how to best approach these new models. Seemingly overnight, services like homesharing and ridesharing became commonplace in cities large and small around the world.

We conducted a study to measure the sentiment and direction of the sharing economy in the 30 largest cities in America. Findings are based on a content analysis of media sources covering:

  • the subject of sharing-economy services
  • the introduction of sharing-economy services in cities
  • the overall sentiment pertaining to sharing-economy services
  • policies and regulation on sharing-economy services

The study’s analysis focuses on ridesharing and homesharing services. In measuring the sentiment, we also determined whether each city has or is undertaking legislative or regulatory action toward sharing-economy companies.

While all cities address the sharing economy in different ways, our analysis found that the majority of cities in our sample are working toward policies that accommodate or adjust to the operation of ridesharing or homesharing companies.

Looking specifically to the 30 cities analyzed we found 9 cities that showed overall positive sentiment and 21 that had mixed sentiment to homesharing and ridesharing. Additionally, we found that 15 of the 30 cities experienced regulatory action or other intervention from state policymakers.

We know that this is a rapidly changing environment and that what our research data is demonstrating may change in a heartbeat. These findings are certainly reflective of what we could see at the time of our data collection and analysis, though.

What this data is beginning to show is that city sentiment is shifting in certain places and solidifying in others. Unlike many other emerging city issues, the patterns that are beginning to appear across the country do not necessarily present themselves across traditional lines of city size or region.

Our analysis also found that states are playing a big role in this discussion. State level interventions ranged from legislation to regulatory rulings to state legal action. Most mixed and negative sentiment for the sharing economy is based on concerns over safety (provider and consumer), fair business practices (equal application of regulations or “leveling the playing field”), or lost tax revenue (uncollected hotel taxes). Overall, cities are finding that there is a way to strike a balance between promoting innovation, ensuring consumer safety and addressing existing industries.

City ordinances that governed traditional fields of commerce took decades to solidify, and while the opportunities of the new fields are great, the swiftness of their rise has been challenging. Cities are up to this challenge, though, and the National League of Cities (NLC) is helping them navigate and prepare for this changed environment with resources and the development of a Sharing Economy Advisory Network.

The Sharing Economy will continue to play a prominent role in cities nationwide and this growth will only continue to expand as the current disruptive companies themselves begin to be disrupted by ever-changing technologies. In order to be truly successful, we must all harness the power of great ideas, encourage innovation and develop robust regulatory structures that meet the needs of many.

For more detail and to read the full report, click here.