Jun 052011

There’s been an interesting discussion going in the comments section to the last post (Collapse) about the pros and cons of equipment sharing. It’s an important issue because it is uneconomic and unsustainable for each person on the island to be fully equipped. On the other hand, there are all kinds of problems with equipment sharing, partnerships and co-ops.

I hate to raise the ugly specter of insurance. But having spent my working career as an underwriter and then a broker, co-owning certain kinds of equipment in our litigious society is problematic. For example, let’s assume a group of people wish to buy a pickup truck together. It will be very difficult for the group to find a company who will insure it for multiple owners. Without getting into a detailed discussion of underwriting philosophy, a multi-owner licensed vehicle is an outlier. It is the square peg that doesn’t fit through the round whole of the underwriting template.

As a result, if a group wishes to own a truck the truck needs to be titled to one person who is the legal owner, pays the license, insures it, etc. The others become permissive users and to be safe and to avoid charges of misrepresentation by the insurance company the other drivers should be submitted as occasional drivers so their driving records can be looked at. If there is an accident involving anyone, the accident is charged to the account of the legal owner whose insurance can be put into jeopardy.

Life gets simpler as we move down the equipment chain. Share a hammer. Not a big problem. Share a boat. A bit more difficult. It’s not that sharing can’t be accomplished. It’s just harder than it looks.

A formal equipment co-op as Wynne suggested to start this discussion is very possible. As long as we still live in an environment where someone can drop a lawsuit on you I would not be interested unless it was formally organized and backed by proper insurance. Klayton summed it up nicely with this paragraph: “But it seems it might be a good solution to have these sharing relationships evolve within a small group of people that have already developed a trusting relationship outside of the cooperative agreement. To just open it up to anyone would require complicated rules, accounting, co-op bylaws, etc. Which might work here on the island, but it would take some effort to set up and run. If someone is interested, possibly they could make a small income by managing a co-op with things like a tractor, shovels, ladders, and the like.”

Ed resorted to Shakespeare’s wisdom to describe the point of view that retards sharing:

“Neither a borrower nor a lender be,

For loan oft loses both itself and friend,

And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.”

Everyone has had a bad experience loaning something out. I recall Wynne commenting to an earlier post on tools that she had certain tools she would never loan to anyone. I feel the same way.

Although a co-op, co-ownership can work an easier idea is the Time Bank which we’ve briefly discussed before. Nicole mentioned this in her talk on Thursday. It is method of sharing based on an exchange of skills. And it is always one hour for one hour. An hour of medical doctor time is worth the same in a time bank as an hour of tractor time. An hour of sewing instruction is worth the same as an hour of chain sawing. No money changes hands. Too bad we don’t have one of those Island Fellows to help us start a time bank.

(Full disclosure: we are partners in a bunch of stuff—pickup, boat, brushcutter, trailer and more. You can make it work. But it’s tricky).


  8 Responses to “Sharing”

  1. I agree with Randy, Ed and Klayton on this, which is why the informal barter system works well and time-banks or ‘Lumies’ instead of Loonies would be a good follow-on for Islanders at large to participate in.
    The biggest hurdle in either of those systems is connecting buyers/sellers or doers/askers to each other.
    Of course, I haven’t considered security in the larger system, but I don’t think I want to tell the world my real name, where I live, and how much crap is stored in my garage.
    I would be open to having 10-20 associate traders in my little circle of friends that did know all that and could come and borrow freely.
    Communication, Trust and Mutual Respect is a good currency of exchange.

  2. The ‘Circle of Friends’ concept I spoke of could be an outcome of restarting the Map Your Neighborhood (MYN) program. I might work like this:
    1. Each MYN cluster contains 10-20 households, with a Neighborhood Facilitator. They do a minimul level of record keeping, phone/email lists, and have a loose structure for checking on each other just after an emergency. They have some knowledge of each others skills, tools and supplies. This is an emergency standby organization, and I’m not suggesting any scope creep here, except it’s the basis for step 2.
    2. An interested party in the neighborhood could take on the chore of starting a separate neighborhood ‘share my stuff’ list. 2 or 3 households would be enough. They could operate at a small level, or expand their group to include others within the neighborhood or beyond. This is where communication and trust start to kick in.
    3. A web site devoted to, or as part of Transition Lummi’s site, could provide the needed structure and security to connect the dots between parties. Joining a password protected node, say the “Lane Spitters” group, would give you access to the others in the group, where they are at, and what they have available to share, and what they like to trade stuff for. Part of that group may be a nurse from Isle Aire, or a plumber from Scenic Estates. It would evolve, but only to the level of that allowed by the group as a whole. In other words, participation by invitation only and revocable by the group for the few flakes out there. Each participant could have some feedback associated with their name for added security.
    4. Having several or dozens of these share nodes available would start a process of cross pollination of the groups. “Hey, I know Bill has one of those cutters!, I’ll call him for you and see if I can borrow it “.
    Anyway it’s an idea to kick around some more.

  3. these might be helpful in figuring out how these things could work:
    tool library here in portland: http://www.northportlandtoollibrary.org/
    service for sharing of personal vehicles; apparently this one is coming to portland soon: http://www.getaround.com/

  4. I am a big fan of sharing tasks with Islanders. If the store driveway needs pot holes patched, let me know, I’ll be there with shovel & rake. If a community orchard needs mowed, I’ll be be there with a mower. If something needs sawing and hammering, show me how, and I’ll help. Don’t borrow my tools, borrow ME! My tools will join me. Borrowing my stuff just excludes me from the accomplishment of a task. Lummi Island Grange members have a long established pattern of always helping each other, and Islanders with tasks. They start each meeting with a pledge: “A good patron places faith in God, nurtures hope, dispenses charity, and is noted for fidelity.” Good things. Joining the Grange is a good starting point for the unfailing fulfillment of one’s duties and obligations to the community.

  5. I endorse Ed’s comment about The Grange. That’s why we joined. It seemed to be a very supportive and action oriented group. Definitely a group of folks you want with you whether or not TSHTF, but especially then. Lummi doesn’t have Rotary, Kiwanis or Zonta. We have the Grange, Civic Club and the church groups as service organizations. Not surprisingly there is a lot of overlap between those four organizations. You will find the usual suspects involved in each. I’ve been surprised that the Grange isn’t a bit more aggressive in recruiting so glad that Ed mentioned it. On the other hand, aggressive recruiting shouldn’t be necessary. By their works ye shall know them.

  6. I figure I’ll try the Grange after the ferry task force is done. I don’t much like meetings, even ‘fun’ ones. Especially during the long days of summer when I prefer being outside late — until the mosquitoes take over. I really like working after an early supper for a few hours. I’m hoping that swallows, bats (and our usual breezes over here) decimate most of the little bloodsucker again for us this year.

    Thanks Sarah for the links — some more research into tool co-ops etc (what actually works, what doesn’t, set up, rules and such) would be invaluable, rather than trying to re-invent the wheel.

  7. Grange meetings are great because there are often cupcakes!

  8. There has been a” Tool library” in the Phinney Ridge neighborhood of Seattle since the 70s. They have some long term success in an urban area that may have some interesting ideas to model.

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