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MaRSDD Steps in to Help Regulate Sharing Economy

The sharing economy has become intertwined with Torontonians’ everyday life. With the growing popularity of services such as Uber and Airbnb, public policy makers have been forced to consider the role of technology in shaping our cities and struggled to come up with proactive policy.

The MaRS Discovery District shed much-needed light and brought deeper understanding into the raging sharing economy debate, and released its Redesigning Regulation for the Sharing Economy Public Report put together by Joeri van den Steenhoven, director of the MaRS Solutions Lab and the project team Idil Burale, Vanessa Toye and Claire Buré. The report summarizes findings and methodology and outlines the framework to welcome new business models, nurture the existing operators, and shape our city’s future in the way that would work best for all involved.

The report comes out at a time when tensions that arose between taxi drivers and Uber manifested themselves in bitter court battles and large street protests, effectively locking down Toronto’s downtown core, while government seems to be playing endless catch-up, struggling to respond to these new challenges.

“Technology is always bound to move faster than regulatory structures can change,” said Black, the general manager of Uber Canada. "This process allows governments to open their minds to innovation and allow consumers the benefits that come from innovation.” According to Black, playing catch-up with technology can’t be helped. “We’re seeing great commitment on behalf of governments to understand. We’re getting very close in Canada to our first set of regulations in regards to ride sharing.”

Airbnb also faced conflicts similar to that of Uber when the travel platform was introduced and even received a €30,000 fine for violating local tourism laws in Barcelona.

The Sharing Economy Public Design project, a partnership between MaRS Solutions Lab, the Province of Ontario and the City of Toronto, focused on approaching regulation and policy from the perspective of users. Hundreds of interviews were conducted to thoroughly map out the user experience and come up with possible solutions, tapping into the experience of taxi drivers, UberX drivers, Airbnb hosts, hotel managers and stakeholders impacted by the regulations.

Since disruptive technologies have begun to infiltrate existing economies, there has been active debate about how technology will reshape our cities. Breather, a smartphone service that allows users to reserve meeting spaces with as little as 15 minutes notice is one of several companies currently operating in Toronto tapping into the sharing economy trend. Julian Smith, co-founder and CEO of Breather has always been an astute observer of technological trends and saw the sharing economy pattern coming from a mile away.

“We had a very strong sense of what trends were going to happen. I had a sense that Breather would be something people would use, but no one believed us,” said Smith.

Breather is currently operating in New York, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Ottawa, Montreal and Toronto.

According to Joeri van den Steenhoven, the suggestions represents a newfound partnership between technology and the tech space.

“The economy is in an exciting and important new phenomenon which is not only disrupting markets but also forcing governments to rethink regulation.”

As the Director of the MaRS Solutions Lab, he hopes the suggestions outlined in “Shifting Perspectives” will be heeded, but there are no guarantees. However, next week the City of Toronto will pilot legislation next week that better regulates ride-sharing.

Steenhoven concludes that any level of government involved in regulating the sharing economy “need to think about this regulation in terms of who is actually subject to these changes.”
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