The University of California has advised its employees to avoid using peer-to-peer services, such as Airbnb, Uber and Lyft, during university-related business in light of concerns that these services are not adequately regulated.
Third-party lodging and transportation services, commonly referred to as peer-to-peer businesses, differ from the traditional client-to-server model used by most regulated commercial businesses. Many peer-to-peer businesses — such as Uber, a service through which users can sign up to be drivers or riders — are startups that use social networking to connect buyers and sellers.
On Tuesday, Belinda Borden, the director of travel services at the UC Travel Center, sent an email to some UC employees stating the university had determined that peer-to-peer services “should not be used because of concerns that these services are not fully regulated.”
Two days later, after some news outlets reported a ban on the peer-to-peer services, the university sent a second email clarifying that it currently allows and reimburses the use of these services but is “actively seeking ways to overcome potential liability and safety concerns.”
According to UC spokesperson Brooke Converse, peer-to-peer services do not protect users as much as commercially regulated businesses and do not provide the same level of liability insurance.
Airbnb spokesperson Nick Papas said in an email that Airbnb is disappointed about the university’s re-evaluation of the service and hopes that “UC leaders will take the time to learn more about the sharing economy.”
The accountability of peer-to-peer services was questioned by some members of the public after a recent case in which an Uber driver allegedly hit and killed a 6-year-old girl in between picking up passengers. Because the driver was not giving a ride to a customer at the time, Uber’s insurance did not cover the accident.
Controversy over the regulation and liability of these services is widespread in the Bay Area. Airbnb, a community marketplace through which people can list or rent housing accommodations, allows landlords to post short-term rentals, which are illegal in San Francisco without a tourist permit, which costs about $40,000.
Activists in San Francisco concerned about the increasingly competitive market for more permanent rentals are working to collect 9,700 signatures on a petition for the November ballot to tighten regulation of these services by creating a mandatory city registry for landlords.
“Airbnb facilitates the international listing of residential real estate in cities all over the country and therefore plugs the housing market,” said Calvin Welch, a lecturer at the University of San Francisco and a leading proponent for the petition. “We believe that the prevalence of short-term rental, although it is illegal, has contributed directly to the steeply escalating cost in the city.”
Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, however, defended peer-to-peer services, calling them a “growing part of our economy” in a letter to UC President Janet Napolitano on Thursday expressing his concerns about a potential prohibition from using these services.
“A University that is focused on the future and committed to fostering new technologies should not work against innovators and entrepreneurs,” Newsom wrote.