BY ETHAN KOMPF
Technology is advancing at an exponential rate. Things that were believed impossible even 40 years ago are now possible. This can be a good thing, but it has its pitfalls. Although it may seem like communications technology brings us closer together, it can also be divisive. One only need look at the debacle that occurred in Toronto with the protests and strikes over the past year revolving around Uber and taxi companies. Many things could be blamed for this, but one of the main reasons is that Toronto failed to put into place laws to regulate Uber in a timely manner. It’s only partially their fault – technology is improving every day and people are taking advantage of it, while the law plods along at its own hunch-backed rate. Uber wasn’t unknown before it hit Canada, preparations could have been made.
Uber and Airbnb are only two of the many popular companies that fall under the “sharing economy.” The Economist, a newspaper which focuses on economic issues, reported a few years ago that this is a $26-billion industry, and that’s only grown with time. This industry is not going away. It can – and has – put up a fight to keep itself alive and it’s only getting more powerful.
It’s easy to understand why the sharing economy is so popular, it’s cheap, it’s fast, it’s convenient and it’s anti-establishment, all things which appeal to people who were born with a smartphone in their hands.
Competitors can continue to complain, but sharing companies will continue to be used. Municipalities can try to crack down on them with legislation, but they will lose. Time itself is their enemy, as sharing companies continue to sprout up and municipalities scramble to keep up.
With the unfair advantage that technology has over legislation, it’s difficult to find a solution at the municipal level. There needs to be laws put into place to regulate these organizations, especially after a number of sexual assault allegations were launched against Uber drivers. This can only be done effectively at the provincial or federal level. However, these “sharing” companies cannot be grouped with previously created establishments. Sticking with the example of Uber versus taxis, taxis need their rules relaxed, without compromising safety, in order to allow them to compete. Uber, on the other hand, needs more regulation to increase safety, without making them more expensive, which is a large part of their appeal.
If we look back at history we can see the plight of the luddites, 19th-century textile workers, who objected to the changing technologies which were putting them out of business. Things, for them, didn’t end very well and it’s the same today with the sharing economy. People need to find a way to get on board, because it’s not just a trend.