The high cost of sharing

In this emerging “sharing economy” – i.e., I got something I can make a few bucks off – much of the focus has been on so-called transportation network companies such as Uber, Lyft, and Sidecar, and their impact on traditional regulated services such as taxis and limos.

Somewhat overlooked have been services such GetAround and RelayRides, which lets people rent out their cars, or Lending Club, where people with money to lend are connected with people who need to borrow.

One of the more popular peer-to-peer services is Airbnb, which allows people with an extra room in their home to turn it into a motel or bed and breakfast. But a story this weekend in the New York Times about a Massachusetts teen being raped by his host in Spain shows how fraught with potential problems the unregulated businesses can be and how difficult it will be to rein in and oversee the services.

According to the Times, Jacob Lopez, 19, had arranged to stay in an apartment in Madrid but as soon as he arrived, the host, a transsexual living as a woman, locked him in his room and forced him to perform sexual acts. Lopez, as he heard the host rummaging through a knife drawer in the kitchen, texted his mother back in the United States because he thought he couldn’t make international calls, pleading for her to get help. His mother, Macaela Giles, repeatedly called Airbnb but was told there was nothing they could do and said to call the local police.

Lopez finally escaped, he said, by telling the host he was to meet friends and they knew where he was staying. But the bigger questions are what responsibility does Airbnb or other app-based services have after connecting willing users with available services? The answer is, at least at this point, nothing. And few of the regulations being proposed would cover such problems.

Many of the regulations being discussed around the country for ride-sharing services are focusing on the economic impact. Measures that would subject drivers to heightened criminal background checks and scrutiny, such as a bill filed in Massachusetts to require fingerprinting like cab drivers, are being fiercely opposed by Uber and its competitors. And they are winning because of the argument that they are not taxi services but rather innovative technologies.

Beyond regulations, insurance companies are beginning to take notice of the sharing economy, asking car owners if they plan to use their vehicles to provide rides for cash or rent them out for use, an answer that would hike the premiums of the average driver.

Except for local officials who normally act off complaints from neighbors, very little is being done to regulate homeowners and apartment tenants from renting out their homes to willing travelers through Airbnb or HomeAway. Large hotel companies such as Sheraton and Hilton aren’t feeling the pinch yet and the small B&Bs don’t have the lobbying strength to launch an effort to regulate.

But therein lies the larger problem. The apps are limited only by the reach of the Internet which runs on the aptly named World Wide Web. Whatever regulations Massachusetts passes are not going to affect, say, Oregon, much less Madrid. As long as there are people looking to sell a product or service to people looking to buy one and save some money, no amount of regulation is going to slow the sharing economy down. We just have to come up with a new name for it because you’re not really sharing.

JACK SULLIVAN

 

BEACON HILL

The Department of Children and Families is under scrutiny once again as state and local authorities investigate the death of a two-year-old toddler and the hospitalization of a second child who lived in an Auburn foster home.(Boston Globe)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Some West Bridgewater residents are a seeking to set up a historic district in town to save some of the historic buildings and retain the sense of a small town. (The Enterprise)

In Salem, a new hotel will honor the city’s past beyond the witch trials: The Merchant, housed in a historic building that George Washington once slept in, will be themed around the city’s maritime history. (Salem News)

The Boston Globe looks at municipal workers who are not covered under the state sick leave law.

Michael Albano, the Western Massachusetts representative to the Governor’s Council and former Springfield mayor, may be mulling another elected office…or not. (MassLive)

An Eagle Tribune editorial states that the recent city council vote makes Lawrence a sanctuary city, whether they are willing to call it as such or not.

CASINOS

The Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head voted Sunday to go ahead with converting an unfinished community center on Martha’s Vineyard into an electronic Bingo hall despite a federal lawsuit and opposition from island neighbors. (Associated Press)

ELECTIONS

Donald Trump releases his plan to deal with illegal immigrants, including deporting U.S.-born children of undocumented aliens, despite that Constitution thing that says they’re citizens. (New York Times)

Jeb Bush calls for the overhaul of the Veterans Administration in an op-ed for the National Review, proposing to privatize many of the health care services.

Gatehouse has a look at some of the proposed referendums being reviewed for the 2016 ballot. (Patriot Ledger)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

The New York Times has a much-discussed piece on the working conditions inside Amazon. CEO Jeff Bezos responded to the piece in a memo to employees writing “anyone working in a company that really is like the one described in the NYT would be crazy to stay.” (WBUR)

The first U.S.-based theme park based on the popular kids’ TV show Thomas the Tank Engine, which have proved popular with millions of visitors to parks in Europe and Japan, opened over the weekend at Edaville Railroad in Carver. (Associated Press)

EDUCATION

Lawrence teachers who were fired after poor performance evaluations speak out about the circumstances of their dismissals. (Boston Globe)

With the rate of young children being diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder on the rise, there is an increased demand for early childhood education specialists in the state. (Boston Herald)

A study shows parents who are uneasy with math will have a negative effect on their kid’s performance in the subject. (U.S. News & World Report)

The Lynn Item argues that it’s time for the city and its teachers to get smart about starting school well before Labor Day if it falls a week into the September calendar, especially given the region’s track record of cold and snowy winters.

Beverly’s upcoming mayoral election could determine the future of the city’s middle school program. David Manzi, challenging incumbent Mike Cahill, says the school project is “the reason why I’m running.” (Salem News)

HEALTH CARE

The number of visits to the Quincy Medical Center emergency room has dropped by half since Steward Health Care closed the rest of the hospital in December. (Patriot Ledger)

Georgia has decided not to move ahead with a plan to get the federal government to provide more Medicaid funding for an experimental program aimed at helping struggling rural hospitals. (Governing)

A UMass Medical student has developed a module for patients and family members to recognize and treat an opioid overdose. The 11 Spectrum methadone clinics across New England will implement the module in the fall. (Telegram & Gazette)

TRANSPORTATION

Traffic deaths were up 14 percent nationally in the first six months of this year and injuries were up by a third, according to data gathered by the National Safety Council. (Associated Press)

After the death of a cyclist in Back Bay, the Globe argues that the Hub needs more aggressive safety measures.

The computer glitch that affected dozens of flights over the week could spell problems for the FAA‘s costly computer upgrade initiative. (Christian Science Monitor)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Fifteen states join forces with the coal industry to block President Obama‘s climate rules. (Governing)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

Boston NAACP President Michael Curry says body cams on police are not a panacea and says Police Commissioner William Evans’ proposal to create a buffer zone for filming police actions is “bad timing.” (Keller@Large)

Mass. officials probe death of foster child, injuries to another at Auburn home. A 2-year-old girl died while in foster care and another was in very critical condition Sunday after the pair was found unresponsive at a home. (WBUR)

Authorities say three Boston Police officers were injured and multiple arrests were made after a fight broke out during the Dominican Festival in Boston. (WBUR)

PASSINGS

Former NAACP president and pioneering civil rights leader Julian Bond died over the weekend at the age of 75. (New York Times)