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Uber, Lyft and Yelp Talk Regulation on the Sharing Economy

Bronwyn Flores, Communications, Coordinator, Consumer Technology Association

The term “sharing economy” took off in 2014 and will undoubtedly garner even more attention in 2015. But what exactly is the sharing economy, who’s a part of it and why does it matter?
From parked cars and spare bedrooms, to specific skills and everyday chores, the sharing economy enables anyone to be an entrepreneur by offering an underused resource or services online for a price. In December, representatives from Uber, Lyft and Yelp came together for a briefing hosted by CEA to discuss the U.S. regulatory challenges faced by companies in the sharing economy. Moderated by CEA president and CEO Gary Shapiro and co-sponsored by Reps. Tom Marino (R-PA) and Jared Polis (D-CO), the briefing aimed to help explain this growing, internet-enabled phenomenon that’s changing the country’s economic landscape. 
To set the stage, Shapiro asked panelists to define the term “sharing economy” and, while each had a slightly different response, they all agreed this new economic system enhances consumer choice, lowers barriers to entrepreneurship and boosts consumption:
“It’s using your own resources as a business to make an impact on the economy around you,” - Brian Worth, Uber’s Federal Policy Lead.
“The sharing economy re-defines what it means to be a consumer. For Lyft, consumers are drivers and passengers.” Chris Massey, Lyft’s Director of Government Relations added,
Although many think of the sharing economy as simply giving someone a ride in your car or renting out your apartment on Airbnb, Yelp has been facilitating online review sharing since 2004. “The Internet allows for an aggregated consumer experience,” said Laurent Crenshaw, Yelp’s Director of Public Policy.
Here are the facts:
  • The sharing economy strengthens the overall U.S. economy by creating job opportunities. Uber adds about 50,000 new drivers every month.
  • These innovative companies give an economic boost to local communities and bring critical services to underserved areas. As a result of better access to affordable transportation, in 2014 passengers in San Francisco and Los Angeles spent $156 million more at local establishments than they would have without a ride option like Lyft.
These innovative peer-to-peer businesses are being stifled by outdated policies and entrenched special interests, which is why CEA actively supports innovative businesses and is a leading voice for the sharing economy. On the federal level, CEA advocates for a forward-thinking approach, urging Congress to resist enacting preemptive legislation in response to “hypothetical” harms. On the state level, CEA’s grassroots public policy arm, the Innovation Movement, mobilized over a 1,000 advocates to protect ridesharing services by contacting their legislators in New York, Illinois, Virginia and the District of Columbia. 
The New Year is sure to bring exciting new members to America’s booming sharing economy and with that will come new policy concerns. Regulators should be thoughtful in their approach and allow new businesses to take shape, rather than prematurely sounding the alarm.

Stay tuned for CEA’s upcoming sharing economy events in 2015. In March, CEA will head to Austin, Texas to host a panel at 2015 SXSW on smart policies for the sharing economy.