Can we imagine a world where everyone is a Lyft driver or passenger and where everyone is an Airbnb host or guest? Where every car trip is a carpool, and every home is a shared space? What does that mean for basic urban infrastructure like public transit? How can strangers in our cars or our neighbors’ homes add to our sense of community and security instead of subtract? And if we are all part-time drivers, renters, and sharers – what does it mean for the future of work?
It may seem far fetched, but companies like Airbnb and Lyft, with millions of customers and providers, are trying to make this vision real and have the potential to significantly impact the basic infrastructure – and perhaps more powerfully – the understood norms of cities across the globe.
Partnering with the Center for Responsible Business at the UC Berkeley Haas School of Business on April 7th, 2016, the Aspen Institute Future of Work Initiative co-hosted a conversation with leaders from Lyft and Airbnb to explore these issues, and to discuss some of the challenging questions about how on-demand economy companies are integrating into cities and communities.
Three main discussion points emerged:
- Infrastructure: In the area of mobility, observers and researchers are working to understand the overall impact of ride-sharing services. Are additional vehicles creating more congestion on city streets? Does the availability of ride-sharing services cause a drop in the use of public transportation? In a recent study by the American Public Transportation Association covering seven major cities, data showed that people who have used Uber/Lyft own fewer cars than those who have not, and people who use ridesharing also use more public transit.
The homesharing movement faces similar questions about the market impact of platforms like Airbnb, especially in cities with affordable housing shortages. Collaboration with cities on those issues is underway, but in the meantime, Airbnb is working with communities to build greater resilience and tools to enable access to housing in case of emergency.
- Collaboration and partnership – with communities and your users: For these marketplace platforms, engagement with both customers and those who earn income on the platforms is critical. Both platforms have benefited from – and implemented – ideas that came straight from Airbnb hosts and Lyft drivers. For example, some of the best ideas to make Lyft more accessible have been suggestions from drivers and their interactions with customers.
Other stakeholder groups have also provided useful insights for innovation and, once engaged, have made powerful allies for these platforms as they engage with policymakers and regulators.
- Policy matters: Companies are increasingly coming to the table to engage positively and pro-actively around policy ideas. Every city and community has reacted to the growth of the sharing/on-demand economy in its own way, so we see an equal number of different approaches and strategies being tested now. It is still early days in these conversations, with a lot to learn as different ideas are implemented, but there is a great opportunity for these platforms to redefine corporate civic engagement for the better.