It’s become a familiar pattern. Tech advances meant to combine crowdsourcing with transportation or hospitality, Uber or AirBnB for example, are released in a city or state and the competition freaks out. Soon, local and state regulators weigh in. Legal battles ensue. In most places, Uber has prevailed, but only after costly courtroom fights.
Now, finally, it seems Uber and AirBnB might have an ally in government. According to CNN, the European Commission told regulators in no uncertain terms they need to back off. These firms and others like them should not be banned in various European publications.
It seems the issue has reached a tipping point where the money generated by these services has given them a place at the table in political discussions. With contributions of more than 28 billion euros ($31 billion) to the European Union in 2015, and amounts expected to double this year, governments on the continents can no longer afford to keep the services on such a tight leash.
Elzbieta Bienkowska, Europe’s senior official for industry and entrepreneurship, told CNN the services were an opportunity not a threat, and that existing businesses in competition with the new mobile-based services, should not be considered a valid reason to ban alternatives.
But money is not the only reason Uber and AirBnB are getting a win on this issue. Public relations plays a huge role in the decision. These democracies cannot afford overt consumer rebellion, and that seemed likely if they tried to impose an outright ban. Today, at least one in six Europeans already use these services, and at least 25 million people already provide them. No sitting politician wants to be responsible for losing billions and sacrificing 25 million jobs just to appease an industry that doesn’t want to change.
That’s not to say it’s open season for these services. Some countries have placed specific restrictions. In Berlin, AirBnB renters are restricted from renting entire apartments, ostensibly to keep rents under control. And, in France, ride-sharing is still illegal. Police have been commanded to seize vehicles using the app. Uber is still in court on this issue, and, as other countries loosen restrictions, it’s likely France will follow suit.
Money will continue to play a part in this decision, but the massive groundswell of populist support for these services will continue to be the factor that provides the tipping point.
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