My wife and I spent last weekend in a fabulous country home in Parkdale, Ore., in the upper reaches of the fruit-filled Hood River Valley. We woke to spectacular views of Mount Hood’s north slope and signed off our two evenings under a bright moon that lit the silent valley and the wooded hillside that defined its boundary. We were in another world but less than two hours from home.
I’d found our weekend abode on airbnb, the online lodging rental marketplace that advertises 1.5 million listings worldwide, most of them in private homes. We’d stayed in other airbnb rentals in Amsterdam and Philadelphia and near the Oregon Coast. In every case, we had good experiences at far lower costs than a hotel room rental.
Such is the expanded universe offered through the new world of what’s commonly called the sharing economy. That label encompasses such person-to-person financial arrangements as the ride-sharing services Uber and Lyft, the home chore networking service TaskRabbit and the online crafts marketplace Etsy. The options are proliferating rapidly. Uber is launching Uber Eats, a lunch delivery service, in several Seattle neighborhoods. And Amazon.com rolled out Amazon Flex, which uses independent drivers for package deliveries in some areas.
Losers and winners
Count me as a fan of many of the new services emerging in the sharing economy. They expand choice for consumers of hotel rooms, transportation, food and services. They create new possibilities for people young and old to pick up extra income by renting out rooms or offering rides.
But like any transformational change in our economy, the sharing economy creates losers as well as winners. Lingering disputes between airbnb and local governments over taxes are slowly being sorted out, and last week the company agreed to pay taxes in Washington state on behalf of those who rent their homes through the service. With Uber, the company’s aggressive expansion has put it head-to-head with regulated taxi services worldwide. Its defiance of local regulations has sparked violent protests by taxi drivers across Europe and legal pushback in France. Two Uber executives face the possibility of two-year jail terms in France for “deceptive commercial practices.”