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Ride-sharing

Consumer group slams Toronto councillor’s ride-hailing proposal

A councillor in Canada’s largest metropolis believes road safety cannot be achieved without implementing the city’s own testing and training programs for ride-hailing drivers — even if that means putting a pause on those services indefinitely while formulating the protocols. 

Kristyn Wong-Tam, Toronto Centre councillor for Ward 13, fell just short of the majority required to debate her motion that would ban the licensing of any new ride-hailing drivers until the city approves an accreditation program.

Read the full article here

A Europe without the sharing economy: scary tale or real future?

The latest legal challenges to Uber are yet another example of policymakers giving sharing economy platforms an unnecessarily hard time despite the flexibility and independence they offer both workers and consumers.

Uber’s fight for existence in Brussels is a win-or-lose moment for the sharing economy in the European Union. The clash comes at a time when steadfast legislative and court actions across the bloc aim to reclassify platform workers as employees and upend opportunities for contractors. Unless the worrying trend is reversed, European consumers will find themselves cut off from innovation and choice.

The current Brussels Uber ban is based on an archaic 1995 law that prohibits drivers from using smartphones. While it should be a great shame for all of Belgium that such a law has remained untouched till today, it is also hardly surprising. Brussels’ taxi lobby has long been unhappy with the emergence of ridesharing, and these restrictions play to their benefit.

Uber began operating in Brussels in 2014 and had to continuously resist the system and fight back through costly court appeals and restrictions to survive. In 2015, the Belgian commercial court banned UberPOP — a traditional peer-to-peer service — by ruling in favour of Taxis Verts, a cab firm, just to name one example. Since then, Uber drivers have had to get a special licence to operate, which made the service more expensive and less accessible.

However, consumers in Brussels still enjoy the services of Uber. Over 1200 residents of the EU capital signed a petition against the smartphone ban, arguing that “there is no valid and digital alternative to the platform in Brussels at the moment”. On the supply side, there are currently about 2000 drivers using the Uber app. The fact that the Brussels government is selectively enforcing an old law only now, after multiple attempts to get rid of Uber, shows that the company crossed the Rubicon of success, and it has become too inconvenient and competitive to the taxi lobby.

Recently, in Brussels, there have also been calls to reclassify self-employed drivers as employees. This witch hunt after the gig economy mirrors the recent Dutch court ruling about employment benefits for ridesharing drivers and Spanish “riders” law, which concerns the status of delivery workers. Under the pretence of providing security and stability, these interventions threaten the very nature of the sharing economy and are oblivious to the drivers’ needs and flexibility.

Sharing economy platforms give their contractors flexibility and independence, and that is exactly what those choosing to ride share or deliver food are seeking. By surveying 1,001 active Uber drivers in London, a 2018 study by the University of Oxford and Lund University found that they joined the platform because of autonomy, scheduling flexibility, or improved work-life balance that the sharing economy provides. Moreover, the flexibility was so valuable to them that they would only accept fixed schedules on the condition of significant earnings increases.

Being an independent contractor is linked with “greater enjoyment of daily activities, a decrease in psychological strain, and a greater ability to face problems”, according to a study at the Paris School of Economics. In pursuit of “better” labour standards, it is easy to forget that value is subjective, and that one size doesn’t fit all. Drivers who make a living through platforms make a conscious choice in favour of flexibility and autonomy, and their freedom to do so must be preserved.

By providing value to thousands of consumers and giving platform contractors a chance to plan their time better through alternative work arrangements, the sharing economy makes our lives easier, better, and more exciting. But some European policymakers are giving the sharing economy in the EU — and especially ridesharing — a hard time, which it doesn’t deserve. It’s time for that to stop.

Originally published here

Sharing economy under threat – Sharing Economy Series, part 3

Welcome to the CCC’s sharing economy series. In this series of short blog posts, I elaborate on what the sharing economy is, present the main findings of the Sharing Economy Index, and look at potential future regulations surrounding these services. 

The pandemic isn’t the only obstacle sharing economy platforms have had to face for the past several months. Governments around the world have introduced new regulations that have been detrimental to consumer choice. Compared to the time when the platform economy was only starting its way into our daily lives, ride-hailing apps today are subject to many more restrictions. Some of these new interventions include employee classifications, social security, parking requirements, or outright bans. 

One of the main aspects of ride-sharing that governments are trying to redefine and regulate is the relationship between service providers and drivers. Uber and other platforms treat drivers as contractors, rather than employees, but to some such an approach is unfair.

Drivers’ inability to set fares, penalties for cancelling rides, and customer engagement restrictions are among the main reasons why drivers can be seen as less independent than believed. However, on the other hand, contractor status gives drivers more flexibility and the chance to choose their own working hours. They can work for different ride-hailing apps at the same time, which would become impossible should full employee status be given to drivers.

Uber has been involved in many legal battles to protect drivers’ independence. Recently, the supreme court of the UK ruled that Uber drivers should be granted employee status and benefits that the status entails, like paying minimum wage and paid annual leave. This will likely increase the ride fare around the country.

This is not the first attempt at restricting Uber though. After protests of London black cab drivers, the transport regulation body TfL was pressured to introduce new restrictions on Uber. Some of these restrictions included a 5-minute wait between rides, which would have affected the delivery of service and, as Uber claimed, taken money out of drivers’ pockets. A petition against this restriction was signed by over 130,000 people and, fortunately, TfL decided to drop it. 

Brussels took a different yet equally restrictive path. The Belgian capital recently has even gone as far as banning app-based taxi systems, the essence of ride-hailing itself. This comes after pressure from the traditional taxi drivers, who were urging the government to regulate app-based ride-hailing that was becoming harder and harder for them to compete with.

Drivers who continue to accept trips via their smartphone face a risk of getting fined or having their license revoked. While Uber hasn’t been explicitly banned, countries like Denmark and Hungary have made it impossible for Uber to operate there and have practically forced the company out of the market. 

Across the ocean, the state of California has also been debating over the drivers’ status. Passed in 2020, Assembly Bill 5 (AB5) was meant to reclassify independent contractors as employees. According to the bill, ride-hailing and delivery services platforms would be required to offer multiple benefits to their drivers. This would have cost Uber and Lyft billions of dollars and increased the cost of ride-sharing services, making it increasingly unaffordable compared to traditional taxis.

Ride-hailing and delivery services platforms wanted to be exempt from granting worker-level benefits to their workers and threatened to suspend their services in the state of California. For example, it costs almost 2x more to catch a traditional taxi from LAX to Hollywood and with no more ride-hailing available, consumers would be left with fewer and more expensive options.

Proposition 22 was included in the November 2020 election ballot and passed with around 57% of California voters. This proposition allowed drivers on these apps to maintain their independent status with certain qualified benefits. But the California court recently ruled Proposition 22 unconstitutional, so it seems like the legal battle is far from being over. It is very likely that other states will follow the example of California which will put the fate of the ride-hailing in jeopardy.

Overall, even though ride-hailing services have made life easier and cheaper for consumers around the world, governments keep yielding to pressures mainly from traditional taxi industries and introducing regulations and restrictions that could potentially lead to the suspension of ride-hailing services.

The cases of the UK, Brussels and California discussed in this blogpost demonstrate a dangerous precedent for countries and cities around the world. If this trend continues, soon ride-hailing will no longer be any different from traditional services and the essence of the sharing economy will be lost. And, of course, consumers are the ones who will have to bear the burden of restricted choice.

Sharing economy in COVID-times – Sharing economy series, part 2

Welcome to the CCC’s sharing economy series. In this series of short blog posts, I elaborate on what the sharing economy is, present the main findings of the Sharing Economy Index, and look at potential future regulations surrounding these services. 

The current pandemic has had a huge impact on the delivery of sharing economy services. As was discussed in the previous blogpost, online platforms have demonstrated exceptional adaptability and have gone above and beyond to make sure consumers continue to see value in using them. 

While some sectors of the sharing economy, like ride-sharing and home-sharing, have suffered immense losses due to strict lockdowns around the world, others have increased their profits and proved to be invaluable. For example, delivery apps became an essential part of our everyday lives. With restaurants being closed, the fear of virus transmission, and difficulty of travelling due to transport restrictions, we found ourselves relying on delivery services. 

To avoid human interaction at the delivery point, Doordash, an online food delivery platform, like many others, introduced a contactless delivery option that can be requested both by the customer and the deliverer. According to Statista, in the second quarter in France, restaurant delivery users increased by 24% compared to pre-pandemic numbers. In the US, delivery companies also reported growth in their revenues. Combined revenues from the four major delivery companies, Uber Eats, Doordash, Postmates, and Grubhub, from April-September 2020 was double the amount during April-September 2019.

Professional car-sharing services experienced a huge drop in demand during lockdowns, but once people started to get back on the move rather than opt for public transportation they placed more trust in car-sharing services as it entails low risks of virus transmission. Share Now increased their hygiene measures, and they have been cleaning and disinfecting their cars four times more than usual. Peer-to-peer car-sharing platforms, like Turo and Getaround, have also bounced back from pandemic-related setbacks. To reassure people into using their services again they eased cancellation policies and introduced additional cleaning measures.

As demand for services dropped drastically, many companies had to cut losses. Uber, for example, had to lay off thousands of employees to reduce operating expenses, most of those employees being customer service agents, and had to close 45 offices globally. Lyft, another ride-sharing company and Uber’s biggest rival, had to let go of 17% of its workforce.

To comply with new covid restrictions introduced by the local governments, Uber and Airbnb changed and adapted their processes. Uber made it obligatory to wear masks while riding, and before ordering a ride, you have to confirm you will be wearing a mask during the ride. Airbnb introduced additional safety measures and made it a requirement for hosts to carry out a 5 step cleaning process between the guest stays. 

Overall, despite the doom and gloom of the pandemic, the sharing economy managed to survive and continue to innovate. These unprecedented times were more challenging for some than for others. While some services, like ride-sharing and home-sharing, had to lay off a significant amount of their workforce, delivery platforms saw record-breaking demand for their services. 

The next blogpost in our series will discuss some of the controversies surrounding sharing economy platforms and how governments are trying to regulate this innovative sector.

The essence of the sharing economy – Sharing economy series, part 1

The current pandemic has taken a toll on most areas of economic activity, including the sharing economy. Cancelled holidays, stay-at-home orders, mobility restrictions due to quarantines, and lockdowns resulted in a sharp drop in demand for sharing economy services.

The Sharing Economy Index 2021, recently published by the Consumer Choice Center, examines the impact said restrictions have had on the sharing economy as well as provides an extensive overview of the availability of ride-sharing, flat sharing, and other types of peer-to-peer exchange. 

In this series of short blog posts, I will elaborate on what the sharing economy is, present the main findings of the Sharing Economy Index, and look at potential future regulations surrounding these services. 

The sharing (collaborative) economy has transformed human interactions around the globe. As a relatively new economic model, the sharing economy is a platform based type of exchange that allows individuals and groups to share their services on a peer-to-peer basis. 

One of the most distinctive features of the sharing economy is that it eliminates the need to own assets and allows people to use various items — cars, e-scooters, gyms — for a short time without buying them. For example, the flat-sharing platform Airbnb that has been around since 2008, allows you to rent a room or a whole place to yourself in exchange for a certain fee. Simple registration on their website or mobile app opens access to thousands of places around the world and is a great alternative to conventional hotels.

Another tech giant and San-Francisco native, Uber, offers services such as ride-hailing, food and package delivery and also requires just a simple registration process. Uber has been known to be a cheaper alternative to traditional taxi services and is currently available in 70 countries.

Technology has been the driving force behind these companies. However, platforms only act as intermediaries and facilitators: they instantly connect the supply with demand. All forms of collaborative consumption require the internet to connect providers with potential customers. Platforms offer a safe and easy-to-use platform to link people in need of certain services, assets to those who can provide them. 

The trust among users is built through the rating systems. Most platforms encourage review exchange to achieve the best user experience and guarantee safety. For example, for Airbnb, some hosts go the extra mile to make sure their guests enjoy their stay by offering free cleaning services or early check-in. Uber recently released Uber Lite to accommodate those people in developing countries who don’t own the latest smartphones and have an unstable internet connection. Mexico is one of those countries. To adjust to the needs of Mexican people even better, Uber also fought hard to enable cash payments in Mexico city, expanding their service to around 10 million people in the metropolitan area. 

Sharing economy provides services that are more affordable and accessible than their traditional counterparts. The main reason for this is the fewer entry barriers. In order to start driving Uber or rent out your flat through Airbnb, you use idle assets already in your possession. In many countries, platform businesses face fewer market entry barriers compared to traditional businesses, too. Often, it only takes a quick sign-up to join a sharing economy platform. 

A variety of services — from home-sharing to co-working spaces — has made our lives much easier. Even though the recent pandemic has been quite challenging, we’re optimistic that the sharing economy will continue to expand and provide even bigger benefits for people around the world. In the next blog post, we’ll go into details on what effects COVID-19 has had on the sharing economy platforms and how they responded.

California’s political leaders are pushing rideshare companies and consumers will suffer

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San Francisco, CA – On Wednesday, the CEO of Uber said that if California’s AB5 law is carried out against rideshare firms, the company will consider pulling all of its services from the state.

Yaël Ossowski, deputy director of the Consumer Choice Center, a consumer advocacy group, calls it a “sad day” for California rideshare consumers drivers.

“Through AB5 and similar legislation, California’s politicians have been sending the signal that rideshare companies are not welcome in the Golden State. But that’s not what consumers want,” said Ossowski. “The flexible model that has so far propelled the growth of companies like Uber, Lyft, and others has been beneficial for both drivers who want independence and consumers who want convenience and competitive prices.

“If Uber and other companies shut down in California, it will prove that the state is no longer a hotbed of innovation, but rather the place where innovation goes to die. It’s unfortunate that millions of Californians will be deprived of more choice if that happens. The same has also proven true for the thousands of freelancers who now find themselves out of work.

“California politicians may have the noblest of intentions, but forcing rideshare companies to become taxi companies does nothing but help the taxi cartel maintain its monopoly and deprive people of earning a living on their own terms.

“Hopefully, voters will choose to support Prop 22 in the fall to reverse course and restore the ability of drivers and other freelancers to earn a living how they want,” said Ossowski.

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The Consumer Choice Center represents consumers in over 100 countries across the globe. We closely monitor regulatory trends in Ottawa, Washington, Brussels, Geneva, and other hotspots of regulation and inform and activate consumers to fight for #ConsumerChoice. Learn more at consumerchoicecenter.org.

CONTACT:

Yaël Ossowski

Deputy Director

Consumer Choice Center

yael@consumerchoicecenter.org

Sharing economy in the post-COVID world: what’s new?

In May, the Consumer Choice Center published the first-of-its-kind Sharing Economy Index, ranking the best and worst cities in the world for regulations on sharing economy services. The top 10 cities according to the index are Tallinn, Vilnius, Riga, Moscow, St. Petersburg, Warsaw, Kyiv, São Paulo, Tbilisi, and Helsinki. On the other hand, the cities of Prague, Dublin, Amsterdam, Bratislava, Ljubljana, Sofia, Tokyo, The Hague, Luxembourg City, and Athens found themselves at the very bottom of the list.

For better or worse, the world isn’t static: there have been some new developments in the field of sharing economy in the last few months. Many governments have used the pandemic as a precondition to hinder innovation, and yet platform businesses persisted and tapped the demand that challenges brought about by lockdowns and responded with creativity.

Let me start with some good news.

The UK legalises e-scooters

Electric scooters will become legal on roads in England, Scotland and Wales beginning in July if obtained through a share scheme endorsed by around 50 municipal councils. The scooters will be limited to travelling at 15.5mph (25kmph) and forbidden from use on pavement and sidewalks.

UberEats has been killing it during the pandemic

In the first quarter of 2020, Uber Eats revenues went up by more than 50 per cent globally. Uber Freight – an app that helps carriers make hassle-free bookings and allows shippers to tender shipments easily – grew revenues by 57 per cent. In July, Uber also launched a grocery delivery service, partnering with grocery delivery startup Cornershop.

Bolt is now available in Thailand

Today, Bolt, a competitor of Uber, announced that it has rolled out its services in Thailand. That’s a huge win for Thai consumers and riders.

Bolt said its pilot venture in the Thai capital has more than 2,000 drivers already on board and will offer better rates to drivers and riders.

“For a minimum of six months, Bolt in Thailand commits to charging drivers no commission for using the platform and offers fares 20% lower than other competitors,” the Estonian company said.

… And now some bad news. 

Amsterdam regulates Airbnb further

In June, Amsterdam banned short-term accommodation rentals including Airbnb from operating in the three districts of its historical centre.

In other areas of Amsterdam, Airbnb will face new regulations too: hosts must acquire special permits, and renting out their apartments will only be allowed to lease to short-term tenants for 30 days out of the year to groups of a maximum of four people.

Amsterdam was one of the least sharing economy friendly cities, according to our Index, and this new policy only pushes it further down the list.

Lisbon wants to get rid of Airbnb

In June, Lisbon mayor has pledged to “get rid of Airbnb” once the coronavirus pandemic is over.

As part of the affordable housing plan, landlords afraid of their apartments lying empty can apply to rent them to the municipality, for a minimum term of five years. The city, in turn, will be responsible for finding tenants, through the programme targeted at young people and lower-income families.

Uber to face more legal battles in London

A dispute over whether its drivers should continue to be classified as self-employed has begun in the U.K.’s Supreme Court. In a second legal clash scheduled for September, Uber will appeal the loss of its operating license in the UK’s capital.

Despite grim predictions at the beginning of the pandemic, the sharing economy has survived though not without any losses. As with every service that has made our lives easier, platform businesses are extensively enjoyed by millions of consumers globally. Now that we know how great it feels to be able to ride an e-scooters, to rideshare, or to share a flat with locals, governments will have a hard time trying to rid us of those choices. The sharing economy is driven by creativity and entrepreneurship: what doesn’t kill it, makes it stronger.


The Consumer Choice Center is the consumer advocacy group supporting lifestyle freedom, innovation, privacy, science, and consumer choice. The main policy areas we focus on are digital, mobility, lifestyle & consumer goods, and health & science.

The CCC represents consumers in over 100 countries across the globe. We closely monitor regulatory trends in Ottawa, Washington, Brussels, Geneva and other hotspots of regulation and inform and activate consumers to fight for #ConsumerChoice. Learn more at consumerchoicecenter.org

As Predicted, California’s Gig Economy Labor Rules Are Already Backfiring

Back in September, the state of California passed AB5, the law requiring all companies using contract workers in the state to treat them as employees.

Labor activists and unions were insistent that this law was necessary to provide security and stability to the thousands of contractors and gig economy workers throughout the state.

At the time, we warned it would be very harmful both for consumers and contractors. Our comments were featured in a Mashable article, as well as hosted on our website. Now, it seems it panned out, unfortunately.

Because of the stricter regulations on companies based in the state, various media outlets have announced they would be laying off thousands of freelance and contract workers they can no longer afford to employ.

Specifically, Vox Media, who called the law a “victory for workers everywhere“, announced it was parting ways with all of its California-based freelancers.

The layoffs are, of course, unfortunate. No one supports large and systematic firings, and certainly not in the news media, a vital industry to our democracy. But the economic trends in journalism have been negative for several years.

However, at the same time, it’s important to note that these kinds of laws, those that seem the most well-intentioned, actually end up having very detrimental effects.

That’s a lesson for practically every piece of legislation, and why we will continue to be active at the Consumer Choice Center. Laws have consequences that are very real and impact people’s lives.

Let’s hope California can clean up its act and allow freelancers and contractors to make a living without too much interference.

Is the gig economy bill a disaster or triumph for ride-hailing? Depends on who you ask

Uber and Lyft have been warning drivers about the end of flexible schedules, and passengers about more expensive rides that take longer to arrive, all thanks to a California bill that passed this week

But drivers and other gig workers are celebrating what could be a pathway to fair pay, benefits, and other employee rights, which some claim will come at only a slight cost to riders.

After the bill, called AB5, makes its way to the governor’s desk, it should go into effect on Jan. 1, 2020. It would make companies reclassify many independent contractors as employees, something Uber and Lyft have opposed. 

While this would directly affect drivers and other gig economy workers, like the 200,000 in California working for Uber, the people who use the apps could also see changes. 

The New York Times cited “industry officials” who say costs for companies like Uber and Lyft could rise by 20 to 30 percent because of AB5. Other industry experts like Michael Droke, a partner at Dorsey & Whitney in California, a law firm that has represented big companies like 3M and Wells Fargo in labor disputes, also sees costs going up for companies and prices going up for riders. 

“Many industries rely on independent contractors to deliver products and services, from food delivery to software coding and design. Those workers will be converted to employees, significantly increasing the cost of the products and services,” Droke said. 

Yaël Ossowski, deputy director of the Consumer Choice Center, which supports deregulation, said the law could force people to “seek out alternatives.” Instead of ordering a cheap ride, he thinks people will be forced to do things like carpool, hail a cab, or find a nearby bus.

Read more here

California’s effective outlawing of contractors will make consumers worse off

California’s effective outlawing of contractors will make consumers worse off

Sacramento, CA –
 On Tuesday, the California State Senate voted in favor of AB 5, requiring all companies using contract workers in the state to treat them as employees. Gov. Gavin Newsom is expected to sign the bill.

Yaël Ossowski, Deputy Director of the Consumer Choice Center, responded to the law’s passage:

“The proponents of this bill are celebrating the fact that they’re all but shutting down the prospects for the entire sharing economy and thousands of other industries in California,” said Ossowski. “The plain fact is this will hurt more people than it purports to help, depriving consumers of the innovations that have made their lives better and more prosperous.

“That includes home deliveries, home healthcare, ride-share, handyman apps, antique selling, and thousands more businesses and applications that millions of contractors and even more consumers have used,” said Ossowski.

“State Sen. Maria Elena Durazo said this proves lawmakers are “determining the future of the California economy.” She’s right. And they’re doing it by stamping out innovation. It will ultimately be California’s sharing economy consumers who foot the bill for this heavy-handed intervention, as well as anyone who relies on contracting work to get by.

“The entire gig economy has grown and been successful because it offers alternatives to consumers and workers alike, who all benefit. Changing employment law to make certain business relationships illegal will deprive millions of people of the opportunity of using these services, and cause even more repercussions for those who rely on them, both consumers and workers.

“California’s move is heavy-handed, paternalistic, and favors the monopoly of larger traditional companies more than people who rely on this new sector of our economy. That’s a shame,” said Ossowski.

A Consumer Choice Center survey from March 2019 found that 72% of Americans believe the government should protect the freedom of choice for consumers.

The same survey found that 69% of Americans think policymakers don’t spend enough time listening to consumers before proposing new regulations.


More information can be found on our website.


***CCC Deputy Director Yaël Ossowski is available to speak with accredited media on consumer regulations and consumer choice issues. Please send media inquiries HERE.***

The CCC represents consumers in over 100 countries across the globe. We closely monitor regulatory trends in Ottawa, Washington, Brussels, Geneva and other hotspots of regulation and inform and activate consumers to fight for #ConsumerChoice. Learn more at consumerchoicecenter.org.

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