Towards a sharing Singapore

OCTOBER 14 — THE “sharing economy” is a recent turn of phrase but one that has fast become indispensable. From bicycles to planes – most things can be shared with an app.

Recently I read about Acquired Time and TenTwo — two platforms that are now offering luxury watch rental services in Singapore!

Yes, now we can share time too.

Mothership.sg summed it as: Singapore has officially hit peak sharing economy.

But I think we can go further. We all know the story, every school-going child on the island who has sat through a Social Studies class can parrot it like a mantra: Singapore is a small city-state with limited resources.

And a sharing economy is ideal of a resource-strapped ecosystem. Why squander limited space on a car when we can all use Grab? A bicycle takes up space in increasingly shrinking flats – might as well use a sharing app if you want to ride one (deposit not included).

The possibilities are endless. Should we share pets? It is a practical solution.

The problem is that the sharing economy has had some negative consequences.

Now you can sport a different luxury timepiece every month by joining Acquired Time, a luxury watch rental service. — Picture courtesy of acquiredtime.com
Now you can sport a different luxury timepiece every month by joining Acquired Time, a luxury watch rental service. — Picture courtesy of acquiredtime.com

Just ask taxi companies or hotels now competing with Grab and Airbnb.

For consumers, the low prices have been a boon but for taxi drivers and hotel staff not so much. As consumers have switched to sharing alternatives, traditional industries have been laying off staff.

This means that in practice jobs have been shifting from formal, regulated employers ie. traditional hotels and taxi companies to gig-based employment like being a Grab driver.

Critics argue that the bottom line will be less job security, and very limited benefits.

Governments therefore have become increasingly wary of sharing applications; in Singapore we’ve seen heavy restrictions on Airbnb giving breathing space to traditional hotels. But the question is whether restrictions are really the way forward.

Of course, it is a tricky space to navigate but Singapore as a land-scarce and technologically-advanced, super-connected city state is an ideal test bed for sharing platforms.

Singapore could lead the way in researching, implementing and refining soon-to-be essential legislation across the world as we see more and more of these solutions.

If you rent a S$10,000 (RM30,150) watch but are late returning it, is it theft? How should the state intervene? Should the state intervene?

Recently on a family holiday, we ended up in the unpleasant situation of an aggressive and bullying host – forcing us to walk away from the reservation and possibly forfeiting the payment we had already made in full online.

I immediately got in touch with the app support and as I waited to hear back for a resolution, I realised that my options were limited if there was no legal recourse.

Building that recourse is crucial. For the sharing economy to work, the state needs to work with it from the beginning.

In the manner we have a sandbox for fintech or blockchain, we should enable and empower sharing economy solutions: today it will be a Grab driver, tomorrow it could be a self-driving Grab.

The space still has a long way to go and rather than shy away from the territory, Singapore should lead the way in terms of understanding these platforms and working with both the public and private sectors to realise its full potential.

So, pets? Clothes? Jewellery? Let’s share it all. Underwear? Well you have to draw a line somewhere.