Finding the right 'Shareconomy' balance - Denny Scott editorial
It’s great that the world is turning to the internet and apps to help share what they have, creating markets for under-utilized assets, but it has to be done in a logical way, or else it’s definitely going to create more problems than it solves.
That was the conclusion I came to earlier this week after hearing about Swimply - an online platform for renting out unused pools. The company has been making waves in Ontario thanks to opening operations in Toronto last year and creating a real splash this year by signing over 1,000 hosts this year. Okay, I promise, that’s the last water pun.
At first glance, Swimply, which is basically AirBnB for pools (and rented hourly instead of daily), matches a supply to a demand. However, when you get a bit deeper, the problems with the idea become apparent.
Take, for example, me having to close my windows to the beautiful cool breezes we’ve been experiencing lately. A few weeks back I had some extra work to do and didn’t get to head to my family’s little get-away spot for the weekend. Instead, I covered some events and wrote some stories to be fully prepared for a busy week. Despite having the house to myself, sleep didn’t come easy to me because there were some neighbours having some kind of celebration outside and partying late into the night. That’s not a complaint: I don’t mind closing my windows when it’s proof that this great little community hasn’t turned into a retirement centre.
It happens a time or three over the summer and, as long as nobody wakes up my five-year-old daughter, I don’t get too worked up about having to close the windows and turn on the central air.
I’m not 100 per cent sure which neighbour was celebrating what that night, but the sounds of splashing indicated they were around the pool having fun, and that’s good for them.
The noise issue wasn’t one I would even think twice on, had I not heard about Swimply.
The platform, which includes its website swimply.com, allows people to list their unused private pools for rental for between $40 and $100 an hour, with some requiring multi-hour bookings.
If you do the math, pool owners could make a good chunk of money with minimal effort. The way I looked at it, you could rent out the pool a few hours a night and 28 hours over the weekend for 43 hours a week, or $4,300 if you’re charging $100 an hour. That’s over $17,000 a month and, if you’ve got a heated pool that could be enjoyed in May, that’s nearly $70,000 a year with the only work being maintaining the pool, which you likely would have done anyway. Swimply claims that some hosts are bringing in six figures.
Along with the more than 1,000 hosts (which the company expect to grow to between 5,000 and 6,000 next year), complaints about the service have risen as well, with neighbours claiming Swimply hosts are disrupting their lives with constant parties, drunken revelers on their lawns and people parking up and down the streets of the Greater Toronto Area. Those neighbours are calling for controls on the Swimply platform, similar to those demanded when AirBnB and other such residential rental platforms became the centre of controversy in the past.
It’s absolutely wonderful that these pools are being used, because they are a significant strain on environmental systems and to have them sitting unused, especially in such highly-concentrated areas like a city the size of Toronto, is harming the environment for no good reason. Just in case you’re wondering, pool pumps are huge electricity users (accounting for almost a full per cent of residential energy consumption in the United States as of 2001) and, of course, pool chemicals can have significant, negative impacts on the environment.
However, as Swimply proves, there needs to be a lot more done to make sure this kind of service isn’t going to turn neighbour against neighbour, which ultimately could lead to the strict restrictions that were placed on AirBnB.
I’m behind the idea of a ‘shareconomy’ - that is a system that lets people rent out things they aren’t using. I’d be lying if I said that I hadn’t seen services that allow people to rent out their recreational vehicles when they’re not being used and wondered if I couldn’t benefit from it.
While I’m behind the shareconomy, I’ve never actually used any of those services because I’m worried about the impact that these companies have when their great ideas turn out to be half-baked.
From trashed apartments to pool parties leading to inebriated trespassers, the horror stories keep me away from those kinds of programs, and prove that, while the idea is good, the implementation of it all may just be all wet. Sorry, I couldn’t resist.