You might not be familiar with the names Michael Nuciforo and Robert Crocitti, but they’re the kind of blokes you want to have around when you’re trying to solve a tricky problem.
They’re the creators of ParkHound, an app that lets you find and hire private parking spaces in busy metropolitan areas. They decided to start the company after circling around East Melbourne on the hunt for parking near the MCG before an AFL game.
As they tell it:
“We drove past parked car after parked car, after…empty space that required a parking permit. There were dozens of empty garages and driveways right near the ground.
It then hit us. Wouldn’t it be great if we could just knock on someone’s door and ask to park at their place for a small fee?
The more we thought about it, the more it made sense. We don’t need more parking spaces, we just need to utilise the parking spaces we already have.”
ParkHound is just one of dozens of new app-based services that have sprung up recently in the so-called sharing economy. While the kinds of services offered differ, fundamentally they all link people who have surplus goods to those who can make use of them.
In thinking about the rise of services like ParkHound, Airbnb and even the controversial Uber, it strikes me that the sharing economy has great potential to help us address some of the big challenges our cities face. As Australia’s cities continue to grow, issues like congestion and the use of space are becoming increasingly urgent. The mounting pressure on our built environment puts the people who live in it under pressure too.
We need to lessen some of that strain, and we need to be smart about how we do it because many of the solutions we’ve tried in the past simply won’t cut it today. The rise of the sharing economy can help. But we need to get the regulatory framework around these services right so that all Australians can share in the benefits.
For example, congestion is easily one of the biggest urban challenges we face today. Transport infrastructure has simply not kept up as more and more people have flocked to our cities. To combat congestion we need to use our existing infrastructure better: both public roads and private cars. This is where sharing economy services like GoGet, DriveMyCar and Uber can come in.
Parking congestion is a related problem the sharing economy may help solve. First – and most obviously – if more people are sharing rides into the CBD or other hubs, then this cuts down the number of people actually looking for a park. But second, sharing economy services like ParkHound can ensure the existing supply of parking is used more efficiently to increase overall supply without needing to set aside more space. Every bit of bitumen and block of land reserved for parking cars is valuable inner city space we can’t use for something else.
As commuting has become more of a hassle and house prices have continued to rise, we’ve also seen an explosion in the number of Australians choosing apartment living in our cities. One of the great advantages of this is that there isn’t a lawn to mow or gutters to mend.
But what about hanging a painting? Doing some DIY renovations? Or even just shifting a fridge? There simply isn’t space to store all the things you might need once or twice a year when you’re living in an apartment instead of a big home.
By the same token, most people who do own a drill or furniture trolley will only use it now and then; the rest of the time it’ll probably just be taking up space in the garage. Apps like Open Shed solve both these problems by letting people who own tools and equipment rent these out for short periods.
And what if you’re an occasional skier, mountain biker or surfer, but have nowhere to store your equipment? Sharing services like Spinlister let you rent your neighbour’s gear for a weekend at a fraction of the price most hire shops would charge.
As with freeing up parking spaces, these apps unlock private goods for common use. They reduce the amount of stuff any one of us needs to own, and so cut down the volume of goods needed overall. That’s really convenient for city-dwellers living in small spaces, but it’s also better for the planet as a whole.
My party is optimistic about the sharing economy, but we are not uncritical cheerleaders. I’ve already flagged some of the public safety and competition issues these services pose; workers’ rights, accessibility and tax are other big challenges which governments are going to have to grapple with.
We want to ensure all Australians can share the potential benefits of the sharing economy – not just a few. There’s no doubt that getting the rules right will be a serious challenge.
But as progressive policymakers, we owe it to Australians to take that challenge seriously.
* Dr Andrew Leigh is the Shadow Assistant Treasurer, Shadow Minister for Competition, and Member for Fraser.
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