Excerpted from a great and clarifying contribution from Natalia Fernández, translated by Steve Herrick:
“Municipal goods and services are not “commons,” and a rental vehicle from a company-owed fleet is not “collaborative.” Confusing things only can lead to disillusionment and disappointment.
Anglo culture and the absence of public policies in the US tended to distort the terms “commons” and collaborative consumption/”sharing.” Municipal bicycle or car-sharing services, even though they may be shared in the sense that there is one vehicle and many users, don’t create any kind of commons, nor are they collaborative consumption. They are mere extensions of transportation services, no different from other public utilities when they are publicly owned, or from a car-rental company when privately owned.
The “commons,” that which is communal, is goods that belong to a community, a group of real people, a demos, that manages it jointly and directly. Public property is something else: it is State property.
But, isn’t public property, by definition, the common property of all citizens? Wouldn’t municipal public goods be, by definition, “communal?” No. Publicly-owned goods are managed through specific institutions that decide how they are used and where the profits go. Citizens don’t take part directly in management and decisions about these goods and their use. They are not communal.
The municipal bus business of any city can be a publicly-owned good, property of city hall, or of the wider region. But it is not a communal good. The classic example of communal goods would be the common lands of many towns, collectively owned by their users, who directly manage their use. The transportation business could be part of the urban commons if it was, simply, a cooperative of users.
The “sharing economy” or collaborative consumption exists when the users share use of goods, while maintaining private ownership. If city hall or a company makes cars or bicycles publicly available (charging a rental fee) there’s no collaborative consumption. “Bike sharing” would be when you share the use of your bike(s) with others through a system of use management. If no one shares their personal property, there’s no “sharing” at all. In most municipal “biking” or “car-sharing” services, the bikes belong to a company or city hall itself. There is no collaborative consumption, but rather, hourly rental.”