By Riley Blevins @Riley_Blevins
10:29 AM CDT, July 11, 2013
It’s no longer just nice to share.
Just ask Hans Schmidt.
Whenever the 30-year-old South Loop resident is headed to the grocery store, library or a friend’s house, he takes out his smartphone and opens his SideCar app.
Instantly, he’s making money. On the clock in the middle of his daily routine.
He receives ride requests from hundreds of Chicagoans. He sees where they are and where they want to go. He’ll pick up a passenger along his route, chat for a few minutes, drop them off and receive payment in 24 hours.
“It really is as easy as that,” Schmidt said.
Schmidt is one of many Chicagoans finding creative ways to make a quick buck by hiring out their personal belongings and underused assets.
Schmidt is a driver for SideCar, a San Francisco-based startup that came to Chicago in March. He went through interviews, a background check, insurance checks and a ride-along to get approved.
Since becoming a driver in April, Schmidt has given 350 rides and uses the extra income to pay off student loans.
“Sometimes I even pay extra on my loans instead of just the minimum, which is great. I never expected to be able to do that,” said Schmidt, who is awaiting admission into a medical residency program. “Every dollar, especially in this economy, helps.”
Schmidt is part of the burgeoning “sharing economy,” sometimes called “collaborative consumption.”
It’s a trend that’s turning millions of people into part-time entrepreneurs. The sharing economy operates on the principle that access to a good trumps ownership. The idea is digging the hole is more important than owning the shovel.
“We are hoping to create a world where car ownership will be optional in cities like Chicago," said Lisa Frame, SideCar’s Chicago city manager.
Shannon O’Brien doesn’t own a car.
Yet the 29-year-old works a hectic job as a freelance make-up artist, spending her days bouncing from downtown hotels for bridals parties and homes of private clients for special events.
While O’Brien said SideCar is usually cheaper than cab fare--saying she spends an average of $12 on a SideCar ride from her Humboldt Park home to the South Loop--she enjoys the community aspect of her involvement in the sharing economy most.
“My job is so much about traveling and running around, for that to be a little bit more enjoyable for me is huge,” she said. “You feel good about getting a ride from SideCar. You meet all these great people. I have so much faith in my drivers. It’s almost like getting a ride from a friend. And if you can hire a friend for a job, why wouldn’t you? ”
It’s certainly easy enough to hire a “friend” in Chicago thanks to a slew of new start-ups.
You can rent a dusty couch to a stranger on CouchSurfing. Share your shovel on SnapGoods. Act as a one-man taxi service with SideCar. Turn your driveway into your personal parking meter on Parkatmyhouse. You can even borrow a $40 bottle of Chanel nail polish through a Netflix-like service called Lacquerous.
You name it--you can rent it and make a profit off it.
But don’t be mistaken. The sharing economy is more than a few people renting their lawn mower for $5 a day.
Forbes estimates the sharing economy revenue will surpass $3.5 billion this year. And companies aren’t just watching idly.
ZipCar, America’s largest car-sharing service, was purchased by Avis in January for $491.3 million.
I-GO, the first to bring car-sharing to Chicago in 2002, was acquired in May by Enterprise Holdings, operators of Enterprise, National and Alamo rent-a-car brands. The financial terms of that acquisition were not disclosed, as Enterprise is a private company.
While one-time non-profit car-sharing services being gobbled up by national brands certainly diminishes the community-level spending appeal to the sharing economy, it may offer a more reliable delivery system.
“The challenge (with car-sharing and the sharing economy) is people are often concerned about sharing with someone else and actually knowing who you are sharing with,” said Ryan Johnson, assistant vice president of Enterprise Car Sharing. “What worries people in the sharing economy is the methodology in which I am bound to other sharers. This really has opened up the spectrum of who can and wants to share by eliminating that one-on-one handoff that makes people concerned and providing credibility.”
Car-sharing outlets acquired by companies also avoid the regulatory uncertainty that clouds the sharing economy.
As Reported by The Wall Street Journal, SideCar suspended its service in New York City in May after an administrative court judge ruled that one of its drivers violated the city’s law governing taxis and limousines.
There are other concerns surrounding the sharing economy, chiefly that peer-to-peer transactions aren’t being reported as taxable income. But the plot only thickens from there. Should room-renters through sites like Airbnb be subject to hotel taxes? Should car-sharing drivers have to operate with a car services or taxi license?
Time will tell. Either way, sharing has evolved into much more than the timeless concept being taught in preschools across the country.
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