Making and Saving Money in the Sharing Economy, Part I

On a planet with rapid growing population and dwindling natural resources, sharing is one of the best and most economical ways to reduce our impact on the environment.  Whether it’s a power drill, a car, a home, or a buck, sharing with strangers can be difficult, and certain safety, transparency, payment processing and review mechanisms must be developed  in order for people to trust sharing with strangers.  Luckily, companies and non-profits are sprouting up all over the globe with crafty, effective platforms designed to enable people to safely share resources with each other.

This two part blog post is designed to introduce people to a few opportunities to get into the sharing economy.  On each of the mentioned platforms, a smart plan and a little dedication should yield cost savings or generate income, depending on whether you choose to consume or provide on the platform.

Before getting into the platforms, a few words of caution.  The author of these posts is not an attorney, and nothing contained herein should be taken as legal advice.   Some of the services provided on the listed platforms are heavily regulated.  If you choose to become a host on Airbnb.com or a driver on Uber or Lyft, for example, you should consult an attorney to make sure you’re aware of relevant laws, as well as any tax, insurance, and licensing requirements.

The following is a sample list of some opportunities to save or make money in the sharing economy.  The first item is specific to Boulder and Denver, CO, but all the others are available nationally (and many of them internationally).

B-Cycle

What is it?  A non-profit bike-sharing program that lets people borrow red bikes all over Boulder and Denver.  An annual membership lets you borrow bikes from any station and drop them off at any station for free, up to thirty minutes at a time (60 minutes for subsidized pass holders in Denver only).

How do I sign up?   Qualified low-income individuals in Denver County can get the Subsidized Annual Plus Access Pass for $10 by calling Wendy at 303-825-3325.  All others should visit the Denver B-Cycle webpage or the Boulder B-Cycle webpage.  Regrettably, Boulder B-Cycle does not currently have a subsidized program, though as of March, 2015, they expected to have one in place soon.

What do I need to sign up?  To sign up for the subsidized B-cycle pass you’ll need to verify that you receive TANF, Snap benefits, rental assistance, or are of a qualifying income level.  A credit card is typically required to sign up, but the Denver B-cycle program has offered to do their best to work with clients without access to a credit card.

What should I look out for?  Overage charges!  In Boulder each additional 30-minute period after the initial free 30 minutes costs $3.  In Denver the first 60 minutes are free (subsidized pass holders only), but each 30-minute period thereafter is $4.  Most importantly, don’t lose a bike. Replacing it could cost $1200.

Uber and Lyft

What are they? Smart phone-based apps that let people who need rides connect with people who are willing to give rides. In Boulder and Denver these services can be cheaper and faster than traditional taxi services.

What should I look out for? As a provider (driver) on either or both of these platforms, you should be sure first and foremost that your insurance provider will cover you AND your passengers in the event of an accident of any type. The moment you take paying passengers into your car you enter into a world of heightened liability – make sure your insurance policy knows you’re taking paying customers and will protect you in an accident.

As a consumer (passenger) on Uber or Lyft, you should always check to make sure your driver is experienced and has a positive rating on the platform. Inexperienced drivers or drivers with negative reviews should be avoided. Finally, you should look out for surge pricing. For more information on how to get the cheapest ride on Uber or Lyft, see this blog post.

Don’t miss information on more platforms, and general guidance on becoming a provider on any sharing economy platform, on Making and Saving Money in the Sharing Economy, Part II.

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