• Bora Hamamcioglu

How the sharing economy can become the solution and not the casualty of the social distancing era

Updated: May 11, 2020

The COVID-19 virus is an unprecedented challenge facing policy makers, communities, entrepreneurs, and employees around the world. Transportation and travel are one of the most impacted industries, and the sharing economy is consequently a casualty of the current pandemic. While some companies are having to temporarily suspend their operations in certain cities, some are already preparing layoffs. The novel virus is undoubtedly a Black Swan. However, these times also present an opportunity for the sharing economy to remind the world once again that its disruptive nature is one that is reliable and necessary.

Though the temporary measures taken by governments all around the world are certainly understandable; the level of fear, paranoia, and exclusion that this virus has brought into our lives is just not sustainable. As social beings, we cannot indefinitely lock ourselves in until the curve flattens. Policy makers, regulators and principal actors of the sharing economy have a historical opportunity -and duty- to work together towards normalizing our lives.

The Verge reported last week that the virus has caused a serious decline in public transportation ridership in the US. This is undoubtedly due to the fear instilled in our communities after governors banned large group gatherings and encouraged us to social distance ourselves until further notice. But how are commuters that do not own a car supposed to run their necessary errands and eventually normalize their lives in the coming months? Must they make a choice between potentially exposing themselves to the virus while using public transportation or remaining prisoners in their homes? The answer is no. There is a third choice, and it is the sharing economy.

The same way alcohol companies have temporarily pivoted to producing hand sanitizers, stakeholders of the sharing economy must also accept the circumstances and the losses arising out of this pandemic, and temporarily reorganize their supply chain to help communities get back on track and recover from this trauma.

Bike-sharing, scooter-sharing, and car-sharing platforms must start with:

  1. Establishing designated pick-up and drop-off lots (or racks just like Citibike's), and temporarily equipping these with sanitation products (cleaning wipes, hand-sanitizers, gloves, masks) readily available for users. For this to be successful at scale and benefit communities, free-floating fleets must temporarily become station-based.

  2. Thoroughly sanitizing vehicles (scooters and bikes) 4 to 5 times a day.

  3. Temporarily providing transportation at no cost for key healthcare workers.

Station-based fleet
"Sanitize your hands here prior to unlocking your ride"

Home-sharing, and car-sharing platforms must start with:

  1. Sanitizing homes and cars before and after every reservation.

  2. Encouraging hosts to temporarily lower their rates and sacrifice short-term profits for the good of society and the survival of these platforms.

  3. Temporarily providing transportation and lodging at no cost for key healthcare workers.

Ride-sharing platforms must start with:

  1. Implementing sanitation guidelines and enforcing drivers to follow.

  2. Lowering commission fees taken out of each ride to allow drivers to earn more in this time of hardship.

  3. Temporarily providing transportation at no cost for key healthcare workers.

Marketing and communications teams must work hand-in-hand with Policy and Ops teams to communicate with stakeholders that when renting a scooter, bike, car, or home, users are able to sanitize their space while not exposing themselves to others in crowded places. Policy makers and regulators must not only encourage communities to make more use of the sharing economy to safely get around, but they must also realize and embrace these platforms’ positive impact, and focus their efforts towards proactively making cities smarter and more efficient.

The acts of corporate citizenship briefly outlined above will inevitably receive praise from the public for offering peace of mind to people looking for safer alternatives to public transportation.

The outcome will be the acquisition of new and appreciative customers who got to experience and rely on the sharing economy in this time of crisis.

The sharing economy emerged after the 2008 financial crisis as a model that enabled everyone to make additional income by monetizing their underutilized assets. 12 years later, companies in the sharing economy space must remind the world once again that their disruptive nature is one that is necessary, and cities and States this time have no choice but work with them to make it easier for communities to adapt to the “new normal”.

-Bora Hamamcioglu

Note added on 03.26.2020: Following the publication of this article Airbnb and Hiyacar have both implemented some of the recommendations outlined here.

  • LinkedIn
  • White Twitter Icon