Bloomberg has reported on one of the consequences of market disruption that may not be immediately obvious when a sharing economy app tips over into the mainstream. The taxi business in New York has been hit, like taxis in many other places, by apps such as Lyft and Uber. But driving a taxi in New York is a business with expensive start-up costs, and far from simple to walk away from. The medallions that act as a license to operate trade at $500,000+, so most are paid for with secured loans.
Capital One has said that of the $690m of loans it has secured on taxi medallions, 89% is at risk of default. The FT reported last year that other lenders, particularly those that specialise in loans secured on taxi medallions, are also feeling the pinch.
Journalist Charles Arthur has likened this to the mortgage collapse of 2007-8, albeit not quite on the same scale. While the focus on the effects of the sharing economy and disruptive technology has been on issues of job losses and labour rights, this example points to the effects it could have on lenders, investors and the wider economy. Who is putting together the killer app that is "Uber... but for fixing the wide-ranging and damaging effects of Uber"?
Medallions, the small metal shields affixed to the hoods of taxi cabs, are issued by the local taxi authority and effectively allow the cabs to operate legally. Owning one used to be akin to owning a gas-guzzling, money-printing machine. Medallions in New York City traded at more than $1 million in 2014, but today's prices are about half of that. The distressed taxi industry is under assault from ride-sharing service Uber Technologies Inc. and competitor Lyft Inc. Uber recently became the preferable mode of transportation for business travelers and has gained market share among leisure travelers.