When we started our work to write Ultimate Gig, we sought to distinguish between the many labels that are often used to describe a new form of work. New labels continue to emerge, almost as if new researchers and writers think they have to position their work with some label that has not been used as a way of bringing attention to their research. I have many academic friends; however, I put many of the research articles that I read into the academic conundrum file. We believe that we already have enough labels. We subscribe to the philosophy “less is more” especially when learning new concepts. Contributing to learning that is actionable has been our focus throughout our work.
One of the most interesting books I read in my study of the gig economy was The Sharing Economy: The End of Employment and the Rise of Crowd-Based Capitalismby Arun Sundararajan, professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business. Unlike many of the other terms we examined, sharing economy is much more than a description of work from our point of view. The sharing economy is more about a philosophy that strives to gain more from what is already in place to benefit a larger group, even a city. The philosophy that supports the sharing economy is not always focused on profit as the primary motive; however, execution of the philosophy can be profitable. Sharing does not have profit as the primary objective. The sharing economy is about sharing assets for the purpose of utilizing assets more effectively and reducing expenses for all involved. As Sundararajan so boldly states in the subtitle of his book, the sharing economy could be the beginning of the end of employment, at least by traditional definitions.
As we read many research papers written by academics in various parts of the world, it became apparent that the concept of a sharing economy is global and embraced by a new generation of thought leaders as a solution to some of the most significant challenges of a civilized society. When we share underutilized assets with others who can use the asset, we may reduce the expenses associated with what we own and enable others to enjoy the asset at less than traditional market pricing.
One of the most interesting examples of a sharing economy service is BlaBlaCar, the France-based transportation service. As with all things created by humankind, the creation starts with an idea or a vision for what could be. The vision for BlaBlaCar came about in 2006 when its co-founders Francis Nappez, Frédéric Mazzella and Nicolas Brusson could not get tickets on any of the trains going to their planned destination.
Today, BlaBlaCar is the world’s leading long-distance carpooling platform, connecting drivers and passengers in 22 countries who are looking to travel long distances so they can travel together and share the cost. BlaBlaCar transports an estimated 25 million passengers per quarter (pre-COVID data). That’s 100 million passengers traveling with a driver of choice and, on average, 3 other passengers if the vehicle is full. The U.S. Amtrak system transports approximately 80,000 passengers per day (pre-COVID). The system is rather antiquated, and on-time reliability is always a question that riders simply adjust to rather than question. The amazing comparison we make is the fact that BlaBlaCar transports about three times the number of passengers as Amtrak with no burden on governance. (Amtrak is owned by U.S. Federal Government).
Why do we share the story of BlaBlaCar? Shared assets and shared space are a serious thought embraced by city planners, architects and government officials designing and planning the future. When it comes to something as important as ground transportation, will it continue to be important that improved services be provided by the government or deployed to more entrepreneurial concepts that involve the crowd? Will services like BlaBlaCar replace the need for hundreds of millions being invested in high-speed railways? The questions are many and worthy of continued exploration.