Technology always seems to be a step ahead of policy. With the rising popularity of companies like Uber and Airbnb, the MaRS innovation centre has stepped in to help the City of Toronto and the Province of Ontario regulate the burgeoning sharing economy industry.
A report released by MaRS in March 2016 entitled Shifting Perspectives: Redesigning Regulation for the Sharing Economy brings together members from all three levels of government, as well as industry representatives to explore the possibilities for effectively regulating these services.
The report states that cities are where the effects of the sharing economy are most felt and that city councils must be proactive in integrating these technologies, rather than ignoring them.
According to the report, “Developing a vision as a city is the first step in this process. Such a vision helps to get beyond a ‘whack-a-mole’ responsive approach, as a previous report by the Mowat Centre advised.”
Canada has recently been privy to a slew of legal conflicts surrounding Uber both in Toronto and in other cities across the country. Most recently, the B.C. Transportation Minister Todd Stone rejected a request made by Uber in January that the province revise the regulations on licensing operations.
Before that however, Uber has battled the City of Toronto, the Province of Ontario and has been banned from several Canadian cities since they entered Canada in 2014.
Beyond regulating disruptive technologies, the MaRS report discusses how to keep existing Canadian businesses competitive during the transition period. How do we welcome the new without immediately pushing out the old?
They use the example of taxi drivers’ opposition to Uber in Toronto and suggest several fixes to their complaints about rider security, insurance regulations and licensing fees.
One key suggestion included lowering the insurance fees on taxicabs so as to bring down costs for drivers.
“When it comes to introducing regulation for the sharing economy, government should not only look at regulating new activities, but use this opportunity to revisit current regulation to reduce burden and relieve existing businesses,” stated the report.
Though Uber has definitely had its legal woes, the tech company isn’t the first disruptive technology to butt heads with the law.
Airbnb faced a battle that mimics the Uber vs. Taxis brawl with the hotel industry. In 2014, the Economist estimated that if Airbnb keeps operating at its current rate, it will undercut the hotel industry’s earnings by 10 per cent come 2016.
Furthermore, the company has come under fire in several major cities including New York, San Francisco, Berlin and Barcelona, where it was slapped with a fine of €30,000 ($44,388 CAD) for violating tourism legislation.
In essence, this issue is one that’s being faced around the world at this very moment by cities in the U.S., Canada, Europe, etc. Though some steps have been taken by Canadian governments to better incorporate disruptive technologies, we’ve yet to see these efforts consolidated.
“Regulation will catch up, as it always does,” concludes the report. However, not without some deliberate planning, as the document makes clear.
The key message of Shifting Perspectives is a shift in mentality among Canadian policy makers. We need to stop reacting to the sharing economy and start planning the sharing economy.
Related Reading: Sharing economy poll shows positive Canadian perception of Uber