Business

The Rise of the Sharing Economy

On-demand tech companies could help Dallas-Fort Worth “democratize” its economy.

Need to see a doctor? There’s an app for that. Looking for a place to stay? There’s an app for that, too. Want to hail a flying car? Believe it or not, there will soon be an app for that. Today, consumers can get almost anything with the touch of a button. For communities like Dallas-Fort Worth, which has a wide wealth gap, the rise of what experts call the “sharing economy” could provide an economic boost to areas that need it most. And as companies work with local lawmakers, participating in the new economy is expected to only get easier.

“It democratizes capitalism. It reduces barriers to entry in participating in industry,” Hirsh Jain, Airbnb’s global public policy manager, said about on-demand services at the recent Reimagine Communities Symposium hosted by Capital One and the Urban Institute. “In giving individual people a foothold in these industries, a benefit can be provided … to people who are in the middle class, or those who are trying to work their way to the middle class.”

DFW is considered a major Texas market for two of the best-known, on-demand companies: Airbnb, an online marketplace for home sharing, and Uber, a ridesharing service, both based in California. It’s also been a breeding ground for health-tech companies like Teladoc, Family Health On Call, and Axxess, all of which specialize in different forms of home healthcare services. Projections show that dependence on disruptive technologies will only gain momentum, as the general population becomes more comfortable with artificial intelligence and machines, according to the “DFW 2026: Igniting Economic and Cultural Prosperity in North Texas” report recently released by Capital One and The Institute for the Future.

Texas is hungry for this type of innovation. State legislators are actively reaching out to Uber in an effort to make self-driving technology a priority, says Trevor Theunissen, Uber’s public affairs lead for Texas. It helps that DFW is rife with tech talent and that Dallas, as well as some of its neighbors, were early adopters of tech-friendly ordinances under which companies like Uber can operate. For the past two years, Austin, another hotspot for innovation, has faced hurdles after adopting strict regulations that effectively chased ridesharing services like Lyft and Uber out of the market.

DFW, however, is trying to rise to the forefront of the growing on-demand economy. Last year, Uber partnered with the city of Dallas to launch its DriveSouth initiative, a commitment to sign up 2,500 new drivers in economically disadvantaged South Dallas.

The dependence on disruptive technologies will only gain momentum, as the general population becomes more comfortable with Artificial Intelligence.

But DFW’s regulatory environment isn’t ideal just yet. Because every city has its own set of regulations, DFW Uber drivers would have to stack up different cities’ certifications to allow Uber to roll out newer services like UberPool. The carpool service offers passengers cheaper fares if they share their ride with someone who’s on a similar route—a complicated task for ridesharing services to pull off in DFW. “Uber drivers in Dallas have to go to the city or online to get an individual permit,” Theunissen says. “So if a Fort Worth driver picks up in Fort Worth and drops off in Dallas, [he] cannot pick up in Dallas unless [he has] a permit from Dallas. In order to bring UberPool to North Texas, we have to make sure drivers can pick up in all the areas.”

Now, however, new regulations could help Uber flourish in Texas, easing some of the most frustrating issues affecting North Texas Uber drivers. Three senators filed bills with the state Legislature that would create statewide regulations for ridesharing services. If any one of them is adopted, Uber would be able to easily navigate between DFW’s various cities. All three bills would also allow Uber to re-enter Austin, and to easily enter untapped Texas markets.

If Uber is able to operate under a statewide bill, Texas could be viewed as a more friendly market. So in addition to Uber and UberEats, the company’s food-delivery service, North Texans might have access to UberPool or UberRush, a service that delivers any item. Uber is also experimenting with flying cars. It recently hired a 30-year NASA veteran to help it explore the flying-car project. DFW especially makes sense as a target for this technology “just because of the makeup … the landscape and the growth of the area … plus the dependency on the car and the helicopter manufacturers being there,” Theunissen says.

Meanwhile, other on-demand companies have had less trouble expanding in DFW and other Texas markets. Airbnb, for example, doesn’t fall under any special regulations (the company follows general public health and safety standards). So it has been able to easily roll out its services, with DFW serving as its third-largest market in the state. In the cities of Dallas and Fort Worth alone, more than 80,000 guests had visited the residences of about 1,400 active Airbnb hosts as of Jan. 1. That number represented a 161 percent increase in Dallas and a 180 percent rise in Fort Worth compared to the previous 12 months. “They like to host big events,” Laura Spanjian, regional public policy, says about DFW. “As more people come into [DFW] Airbnb will provide more options, and that will only grow.”

In addition, Airbnb is working with cities like Dallas to make its offerings even more convenient and more inviting for new users. The effort had its genesis in 2008, when Airbnb hosts often were unaware that they would have to pay city and state taxes on their rental offerings. So when they were hit with the bill after the fact, it would often come as a surprise, and oftentimes hosts had no idea how they were supposed to pay. “A lot of cities aren’t set up to accept taxes like this,” Spanjian says. “We knew we had to come up with a better model.”

That’s just what Airbnb did. It created a tax division a couple of years ago and worked out tax agreements with 250 cities across the nation. The agreement makes Airbnb the responsible party for the taxes. So when hosts book their residences, Airbnb takes an extra 10 percent for city taxes. The company is currently working with the state of Texas and its cities to solidify these agreements. It expects to announce Texas deals this year.

The tax agreements are only part of Airbnb’s plan to grow its local and national presence, though. It recently introduced—though not yet in DFW—a new offering called Trips, which is expected to grab the interest of experience-driven millenials. Trips allows users to book an experience with a host. This means that users can visit California and spend the weekend with a surfer, fly to Italy and go truffle hunting, or hang out with a New York City DJ at his club. With the new product, Airbnb is expanding beyond offering housing to providing tailored experiences. DFW is expected to get Trips later this year or in 2018, Spanjian says.

Just as Airbnb and Uber are reinventing the on-demand travel experience, several North Texas startups are shaking up the healthcare industry, too. For example, Plano-based Axxess is giving home care providers the software tools to provide on-demand data, training, and mobile solutions. Another pioneer, Dallas-based Teladoc, has been battling state and federal regulators to make telemedicine more accessible to patients in Texas. At the same time, healthcare systems like Children’s Health have been ramping up their own telemedicine practices with help from nimble startups like Dallas-based Mend, which became Family Health On Call after the partnership. “People want to receive care wherever they want, whenever they want,” says Andrew Olowu, Axxess’ chief technology officer. “We’re going to see a reversal of how things were in the last century … Healthcare is coming back to the home.”

As on-demand companies, both local and national, continue to push out new employment opportunities that change the way their industries function, DFW lawmakers would be wise to limit cities’ red tape for new technologies.

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