'Sharing economy' gaining traction in Singapore

Mr Lyndon Yeo with some of the things he rents out. He has made more than $1,000 by renting out items that would otherwise be gathering dust.
Mr Lyndon Yeo with some of the things he rents out. He has made more than $1,000 by renting out items that would otherwise be gathering dust.ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

Instead of leaving the stuff in his storeroom to gather dust, media and events company owner Lyndon Yeo has found a way to make money from it.

Using the online platform renttycoons.com, the 46-year-old rented out items from tentages to air pumps, which he used only occasionally, and earned more than $1,000.

For Mr David Thomson, renting Mr Yeo's tents for an event last September saved him the hassle of storing and maintaining an item which he needed to use only once. "It is more convenient that way," said the banker, who is in his late 40s.

This is the sharing economy - a marketplace where ordinary people rent and share anything from plastic stools to homes and cars. And going by the figures, Singaporeans are taking a healthy interest in this new form of consumption.

Renttycoons.com, which lets people rent anything from drills to flipcharts, has picked up 1,700 users since it was launched in January last year.

Meanwhile, BlockPooling.sg, a similar service which allows people to rent their neighbours' tools or even pay them for services such as computer repair, now has about 3,500 users since launching last March. iCarsclub, a website where people rent out their cars, has 220 cars available and about 6,500 registered users. Sharetransport.sg, a carpooling service, has about 16,000 users.

Since around 2010, about 20 co-working spaces have also mushroomed, enabling people to share workspaces with each other instead of having to bear the full cost of renting an office.

Said Mr Eugene Tay, 36, who runs a co-working space called Ecosystem: "When you buy a drill, what you want is the hole, and not the drill. The old model is buy and throw away, but if you use it once, why not rent it from a neighbour who has it?"

Despite the benefits of the sharing economy, it still faces challenges in Singapore. The worry that strangers might ruin your stuff is a common one. "But in practice, that rarely happens," said Ms Fenni Wang, 28, co-founder of renttycoons.com.

The former civil servant recalls only two cases of damage since her site started. In one case, a customer forgot to return the box of a popcorn machine, and her deposit was forfeited as compensation. In another case, a customer left the deep fryer on the bus, but the owner did not mind as she rarely used the machine anyway. "In most cases, customers can settle things between themselves," she said.

Sharing economy companies also have measures such as deposits and additional insurance. Most sharing economy platforms also allow users to rate each other. "If you have bad comments, people tend not to rent to you or rent from you," said Mr Ryan Tan, who started Leendy, an app which enables users to swop items.

Regulations can also be a problem.

Current guidelines state that people can rent their cars to each other only from 7pm on Friday to 7am the following Monday. The scheme was meant to allow people access to cars on weekends and public holidays, when demand for private transport exceeds supply, the Land Transport Authority said. However, this means cars would be sitting idle in office carparks on weekdays, said Mr Clifford Teo, 28, general manager of iCarsclub.

The Housing Development Board and Urban Redevelopment Authority's guidelines also state that subletting flats for a period of less than six months is illegal. Both agencies have received complaints about short-term subletting, with some residents citing security as a concern. But this leaves businesses such as PandaBed, which helps homeowners rent their places to holidaymakers, in a bind.

Singapore University of Technology and Design's Professor Saif Benjaafar, an expert in the sharing economy, believes it may be time for governments to tweak some of their policies in a way that encourages sharing, but avoids negative repercussions. "They need to recognise the emergence of new businesses models and new ways people are consuming and sharing goods and services."

kashc@sph.com.sg

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