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The public sector is in a rare position. It has a chance to adapt to, and possibly influence, a newly emerging model of commerce: The sharing economy.

PricewaterhouseCoopers describes the sharing economy as one that’s all about connecting demand to spare capacity or spare assets.

“This is perhaps an opportunity for government and regulators to create something new, forward-looking and aligned with a commitment to foster innovation … while both advocating on behalf of entrepreneurs and protecting consumers,” Ted Graham, a Canadian innovation leader at PricewaterhouseCoopers, wrote in a blog in September 2015.

ways government agencies can lead

In a recent report from PwC Canada, the Ontario Chamber of Commerce and CGI, companies that use a “sharing economy” business model could have as much as $15 billion in revenue this year globally. State and local government agencies in the United States are looking at the benefits of this new business approach, and its potential revenue, with interest.

The Sharing Economy Meets Public Transportation

 
As identified in Onvia’s Spending Forecast Center, the association of governments wants to know how flexible transportation services can help citizens, particularly seniors, to get around town. In its final Fiscal Year 2016 Program Budget, SANDAG proposed a research project on mobile application-based, on-demand mobility services and on the growth of companies, such as Uber and Lyft. They want to explore whether ride-sharing services could be expanded and developed to aid “increasingly more tech-savvy” seniors in getting around.
 

SANDAG wants to study the suitability of smartphone apps as the primary dispatching method and the willingness of seniors to actually use the services, based on comfort, safety and available payment options, such as a cashless method. The association also wants to consider the types of trips people would take, how the method would apply to individuals with disabilities, and incorporating the ride-sharing services into the existing specialized transportation network.

 
The agency wants to create a Travel Demand Management planner position to work with the business community, city staff and residents to manage voluntary commute trip reduction programs. The city wants to use innovation solutions from ride-sharing to parking management. The agency proposed $219,000 in the City Manager’s 2015-2016 Budget and Capital Improvement Plan to create the new role.
 

There are two factors that put the government on the cutting edge. Firstly, only the early adopters have used these services, and secondly, consumers recognize it’s potential.

As local governments eye the emerging sharing economy, consumers are intrigued too, and they predict a positive future. A survey of U.S. consumers in September 2015 by Radius Global Market Research found 78% of consumers agreed that the companies with the new business model are important for the success of the economy, and 91% agreed that these types of companies make it easier for people to get the products and services they want.

 
Noted in its proposed 2016-2025 Metropolitan Transportation Improvement Program that the agency plans to closely monitor how Uber, which has been operating in Winston-Salem for over a year affects the vehicle-for-hire industry in city. Uber does not currently have to abide by city and county regulations, while companies providing the same service must meet certain criteria, including licensing.
 

Bikes Offer New Methods of Sharing

With systems currently established in over 31 cities across the U.S., bike-sharing offers a new and unique form of public transportation that would likely not be possible without the increased interest among state and local officials to find ways of implementing sharing economy concepts to help improve quality of life for their citizens.

Onvia’s Project Center found state and local governments issued 62 bids and requests for proposals related to bike-sharing programs and made 92 awards since 2013. While most programs were located largely throughout sunny California, Florida, and Arizona, the systems are making their way into many other urban areas across the U.S.

 
Issued a solicitation in January 2015 for bike-sharing services. Milwaukee’s Department of Public Works wants to find vendors to provide the related equipment, related software and technology, and the installation for the first phase of the Milwaukee Bike Share Project.
 

Sharing Public Data

Like drivers for car-sharing services who use their personal vehicles to participate in the sharing economy, state and local governments also have a vast resource that has long been underutilized and is now reaching its full potential through the emergence of the sharing economy: Public data.

The federal government has already opened up much of its data for public access so developers can find new ways to utilize this data, such as creating weather maps from data gathered from the Department of the Interior and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Other examples include government watchdog groups using USASpending.gov to check up on Congress, and businesses tap the data to offer new services to clients.

State and local governments are using their data for awareness and efficiencies both internally and externally in a variety of new ways.

 
Released a bid in May 2015 to further its Open Data Implementation Initiative by developing data systems for health and human services and public safety. Officials want to use the data to measure the outcomes of priority initiatives, boost cybersecurity and privacy protection, keep citizens informed, make public servants accountable, and enable the data to aid in entrepreneurial pursuits.
 
 
Issued a request for information in June 2014 to help build a situational awareness platform. City officials would use the platform solution for operational and logistical planning for city events and incident management resources, as well as real-time response and activity management through multiple data sources. The event planning, tracking and reporting features would enable officials to understand situations, such as daily operations and major disasters.
 

The Sharing Economy Creates Collaborative Government

The sharing economy is burgeoning and public sector agencies (that can act as regulators and users) and their citizens can benefit from this new model. Information technology and telecommunications and wireless companies are major players, since mobile apps are a lynchpin of connecting services to people in real-time. Both information system consultants and business consultants can provide unique insights and new ideas that intrigue forward-looking public agencies. In considering efficiencies, the limits are expansive across a wide range of industries from sharing modes of public transportation such as cars and bikes to sharing public data.