Debra J. Saunders
I've never used Airbnb. I'm not proud of my failure to dive into the sharing economy. I know it's largely a function of middle age -- I don't want to sleep in a stranger's spare bedroom, even if it's cheap -- and of years of parlaying hotel rewards programs to my advantage. My first reaction when I heard about ride service startups Uber and Lyft was that they enjoy an unfair advantage over cabbies, who have to jump through hoops and pay huge fees to do what "sharing" kids do on the fly.

I mention the above to establish that I understand cities' impulse to use their clout to instill in startup upstarts some respect for the businesses they seek to disrupt. As San Francisco Deputy City Attorney Yvonne Mere puts it, "being part of the sharing economy does not justify violating the law."

But there's another side to this equation:

A. When municipalities go after sharing startups, they can cut into their constituents' ability to make the rent.

B. It's good that under-30-somethings embrace the belief that they are free to use their property as they please.

C. Those of us who do not partake in the sharing economy stand to benefit when hotels and livery services have to compete to keep our business.

This is the long way of getting around to the subject of this column -- the California city of Millbrae's success in chasing FlightCar to another city.

Inspired by Airbnb, FlightCar was born when three East Coast college students came up with the idea of letting people "share" their cars when they are out of town. Locals flying out of San Francisco International Airport can leave their cars with FlightCar -- without having to pay for a ride or parking. FlightCar promises to wash their car, rented out or not, and pays a small fee for cars that are "shared." Out-of-towners can rent wheels for far less than they would pay a rental car giant.

On a busy Friday, as she returned the Toyota Prius she had driven for three weeks to FlightCar's new South San Francisco location, Song Yun of New York told me that she found the service "really convenient." She's 23, she added, and hence too young to rent from an airport rental giant.

Rocky Garff of Menlo Park, California, found FlightCar to be a more profitable way to park his 8-year-old Honda Civic while on an 11-day vacation.

FlightCar set up shop in Millbrae in March 2013. In April, Millbrae granted the new business a three-year conditional use permit. Within a year, Millbrae withdrew the permit -- citing building code violations and three car thefts -- and litigation ensued.


Debra J. Saunders


 
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