Luke Foley is the Leader of the NSW Opposition, and he thinks it's time for the State's Government to surrender its war on Uber and embrace the so-called Sharing Economy.
Although it often feels that NSW is stretched to breaking point, the truth is there's actually excess capacity all over the place. Look around with an open mind and you'll notice it everywhere.
Housing is unaffordable, but many households have spare rooms.
We lack storage, but cram our garages and sheds with tools and equipment we rarely use.
You can't find a park around key commuter hubs, yet most car ports and driveways on residential streets around train stations are unused for most of the day.
Our roads are congested – with vehicles full of spare seats.
Filling this idle capacity is at the heart of new "shared economy" of peer-to-peer platforms like Airbnb, GoGet and UberX.
According to the US carsharing company, ZipCar, the cars we own sit idle 95 per cent of the time. Or take OpenShed, which enables owners to earn a return from their idle "stuff". You may be happy for people to share the spare drill you've got lying idle at the back of the shed. OpenShed puts you in touch with those people in your area who may be willing to pay to use your drill for a day or even a week.
It can be tempting to try to dismiss these new digital platforms as mere hipster faddism. And because these innovations are, by nature, disruptive, it can be tempting for politicians to reflexively attempt to outlaw them out of existence.
But these attempts miss the fact that these platforms are fundamentally trying to fix gaping inefficiencies. Trying to hold back high-tech attempts to fill those gaps is like trying to hold back the tide. The fact is, the shared economy is already big business.
Airbnb has been valued at more than $20 billion. Uber is now worth more than $40 billion with recent media reports suggesting its value could rise above $50 billion this year. Last month, after only 12 months in operation, Uber celebrated one million UberX trips in Sydney. Another ride sharing platform, Lyft, is looking to launch in Sydney as well. All this despite ride-sharing remaining illegal in New South Wales.
To capture the value being offered we need governments to wake up and have the guts to accept the challenge. Yes, the shared economy represents a paradigm shift for regulators. But that does not mean we should run from the challenge and ignore how things are evidently evolving. So there's the challenge, but it's not an insurmountable one.The NSW government is capable of providing these rapidly developing industries with certainty if it has the will and the vision. In fact, it has a responsibility to get involved and protect all parties – the platforms and the users who are currently vulnerable to risk. Funnily enough, the new regulatory regime we must develop must in some ways mirror the sector it seeks to regulate. Which is to say, any new regulatory framework must involve the regulators, the platforms, and the users – a collaborative regulatory framework for a collaborative economy.
With that in mind, I will introduce a private member's bill this year to regulate ride-sharing in NSW. Political leaders in NSW cannot continue to turn a blind eye to the exciting potential solutions the sharing economy offers to our structural problems.
Uber's ride-sharing arrangements could dramatically ease congestion on NSW roads.
AirBnB could help open the NSW tourism sector up to a whole new market.
Yes, we must act carefully and be cognisant of the risks, but I refuse to believe the only role for government in this bold new economy is to weakly sandbag levees that are destined eventually to break.
This post originally appeared on the Sydney Morning Herald and has been republished with permission.