Sharing

It was predicted 20 years ago that the Internet would bring people together in new and unimaginable ways. Now we know it can also drive them apart in new and unimaginable ways.

As we report in today's cover story on the sharing economy, the emergence of nontraditional lodging and transportation options has created new tensions, and even rancor, in the industry and among government officials responsible for regulating and taxing it.

We don't think the trillion-dollar U.S. travel industry has a whole lot to fear from apartment rentals or "community-powered transport," to use an emerging pleonasm. But that's not to say that the industry or local governments should turn a blind eye.

Aunt Mary has every right to rent out the spare bedroom if she wants to, but if she leases a dozen apartments all over town and rents them out to visitors under a dozen different names, Aunt Mary should meet the fire code and pay occupancy taxes.

There are reasonable ways to navigate these new waters, as California demonstrated by designating ride-share providers as Transportation Network Companies, subject to some basic consumer protections such as background checks, insurance requirements and vehicle inspections.

Many venerable travel companies can trace their beginnings to lone entrepreneurs, amateurs, who saw an opportunity and built on it.

That's a hope that we have to keep alive.
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