Is the next frontier for the sharing economy around government assets like diggers and sewer cleaners?
So far, collaborative consumption has mostly involved expensive consumer goods like cars, bikes, and homes (with companies like Lyft, Citi Bike, and Airbnb, respectively). There hasn't been much peer-to-peer activity among businesses. And public officials have largely steered clear of the whole concept.
A new site called MuniRent, based in southern Michigan, has a plan to change that, and it's already got four municipalities involved. "There are early adopters who are excited about the sharing economy coming to the government level," says CEO Alan Mond. "Our vision is to be the hub for collaborative government."
The site lists government equipment like Ford F550 Dump Trucks and pavement rollers. Municipalities book items for a designated period, pay a fee, and arrange pick and return. The city of Chelsea, west of Ann Arbor, is even offering an operator and fuel to go with its Elgin Street Cleaner listing, showing how services can be shared along with hardware.
MuniRent is one of five start-ups recently accepted to Code for America's new accelerator. When we spoke to Mond, he had just completed the first week of the program in the San Francisco—an experience he describes as exciting. Code for America is trying to introduce modern technology to government, and has coders on secondment throughout the country.
Mond says many local government already share on an ad hoc basis, but not as part of a wider system. So he thinks the idea isn't completely foreign. Having set up a small "cluster" in Michigan, he now plans to go to Oregon and one other test market. He reckons 30 miles is probably the maximum distance within which a trading group can work.
The potential advantage for both parties is cost. The renter gets equipment cheaper than it would be on the open market—sometimes up to 70% cheaper, Mond says. The municipality offering the deal gets cash to offset maintenance costs.
Mond reckons that governments are more likely to share than businesses, because, aside from political differences, they don't compete. "If you have two construction companies, one of them may not want to rent a crane to the other one. Governments are all trying to do sewer maintenance on reduced budgets. They're not competing. They just happen to be in different jurisdictions," he says.
It's nice to think that governments could collaborate to save taxpayer money. But let's see if it takes off for real. We'll return to see how MuniRent is getting on in a few months time.