It’s Saturday, December 9, 2023 and 66°F in Austin, Texas
With Uber and Lyft Vote Austin Lost It's Soul and 10,000+ Jobs
I've been living off and on in Austin since 1988, and the beautiful thing about Austin was that people here subscribed to a "live and let live" philosophy and allowed others to make their own life choices. Austin was a melting pot for diverse groups of people who lived in harmony despite often opposing ideological views. Your neighbors might be bongo playing musicians, Sierra Club vegetarians, or Bush-voting conservatives who like to go fishing on the weekends - and yet, everyone would always get together for a friendly neighborhood barbecue to share a beer or two. The Austin middle class of largely underpaid state and University of Texas workers, could live a nice life in a relatively affordable house, in a clean, safe city with sunny weather and lots of free outdoor activities. So long as you weren't building over the Barton Springs Edwards aquifer, you were free to live your life without much city intervention.
While Austin has changed dramatically over the last three decades, that independent spirit of allowing residents to make their own choices in life has been a driving force in attracting businesses, startups, and residents to this rapidly expanding city.
We lost that spirit of allowing others to make their own choices with the defeat of Proposition 1 on May 7th, 2016. A tiny fraction of registered voters ultimately decided the outcome of PROP 1, and effectively imposed their will on everyone else. There were 10,075 more votes against PROP 1 than for it, and that represents only 1.9% of the Travis County's 509,242 registered voters. Only 17.5% of the electorate bothered to vote, with 39,109 voting for Prop 1 and 49,208 against.
Essentially, every "winning" vote against the ordinance placed 1 person out a job - and those Austin voters should be ashamed of themselves for succumbing to talking points that relied on anti-corporation demagoguery rather than the merits of the issue on the ballot.
Look, if you want to protest some large corporation that actually impacts your life in a negative way, go right ahead!! If you can't afford your patented medications due to outrageous monopoly-based pricing, or want to protest your ever-increasing cable bill, hey I understand... But to vote against an ordinance on the basis of how much money a company is valued at, or you didn't like receiving multiple mailers/phone calls/texts is ridiculous and unfair to those who actually spent time researching the issues, particularly if you've never used a ridesharing service in your life!!
I'm not a driver/investor/employee of Lyft/Uber -- just someone familiar with Austin and it's transportation challenges. Lyft and Uber were helping solve our overwhelming transportation issues by providing quick, affordable rides to all parts of Austin, at all hours of the day and night. They were an effective tool for getting drunk drivers off the streets by providing a reliable/affordable transportation option. Lyft and Uber successfully provided millions of safe rides to Austin residents over the past 2 years under the reasonable regulations passed by the prior city council after in-depth meetings with community stakeholders.
Everything was going GREAT, until the new city council and Ann Kitchen decided to meddle with what was already working extremely well. Ann Kitchen decided to bring up the only issue that was certain to drive Lyft /Uber out of town -- fingerprinting!! To claim that "TNC companies wouldn't leave" due to mandatory fingerprinting requirement is disingenuous - all Ann Kitchen had to do was look to what happened in San Antonio - the 7th most populated city in the United States and 2nd most populated city in Texas. Both Lyft/Uber exited San Antonio, and didn't come back until fingerprinting was made optional. To expect a different outcome in Austin (a smaller city) is the height of hubris!!
Ann Kitchen claimed that fingerprinting was necessary "to make us safer" based on a handful of allegations of sexual assault by TNC drivers (out of millions of rides given). The media never effectively questioned this line of reasoning --
Questions never asked or answered properly regarding the alleged incidents used as justification for fingerprinting:
- Why was no one ever charged or arrested in these alleged assaults?
- Did police have any difficulty locating the drivers in question, given that the alleged victims would have been emailed receipts showing their driver's name, photo, car make/model, license plate, and the exact route taken?
- Did Lyft/Uber cooperate with authorities and provide additional information to locate these drivers?
- Were these drivers using some false alias that allowed them to hide some secret criminal past?
- Had these drivers been fingerprinted, would their background check results been any different?
Unless you can demonstrate that Kitchen's fingerprinting "solution" would have prevented the alleged assaults, then the justification for such a law is meaningless!! Millions of rides have been given in Austin, and if users didn't feel safe they wouldn't use the TNC services. Additionally, riders have the opportunity to rate their drivers -- if a rider rates them poorly, my understanding is they will never be matched with the driver again, and if the driver get generally lower scores they will be dropped as a driver altogether. If someone had a particularly bad experience, they could contact Lyft/Uber and likely get the driver suspended immediately from the system.
Uber lists 200 cities in the United States alone where they successfully operate using their existing national background checks that don't require fingerprinting. Yet Austin's city council decided to push the fingerprinting issue knowing full well that Lyft/Uber would leave, and thus the Austin City Council has ultimately left us far LESS SAFE!!
The Austin City Council argued they were making us "safer" - when in fact, they were addressing a hypothetical FAKE problem that didn't exist in Austin - drivers with aliases and hidden criminal histories committing violence against riders.
You know what is a REAL problem in Austin? Drinking and driving!! If you've ever visited Austin, you know that the downtown entertainment district is essentially one bar after another.
- 2015 Austin Bar Sales = $663.5 million
- @ approx. $6 a drink = 110,583,333 drinks served last year
- /365 days = 302,968 drinks served per day
If you estimate that 3 drinks puts people over the legal limit - you have potential for 100,989 drunk drivers per day.
Or at 6 drinks a piece you have 50,495 potential drunk drivers per day.
While some of those drinks may have been served to people who are staying in hotels or living downtown, it is naive to believe that a whole lot of these people aren't on the roads. All the city council has to do is visit a few downtown bars on the weekend if they want to see thousands of people that have no business behind the wheel!!
Regardless of Austin Police Department shamelessly revising their DWI numbers on the eve of the Prop 1 election to influence the election outcome, there is no doubt that people were enthusiastically using the Lyft/Uber services to avoid drinking and driving. The services provided affordable, reliable rides that generally showed up in under 10 minutes - the services resolved issues of getting stranded downtown late at night. Furthermore, I'd argue that DWI statistics are largely irrelevant, as they only account for people that are pulled over and arrested - and APD can only pull over and process a certain number of people each evening.
So the Austin City Council takes 2 successful businesses providing valuable and affordable services to thousands of residents and tourists, and passes unnecessary regulations that don't make people any safer. Over 10,000 people lost a flexible job that allows them to make ends meet in this increasingly expensive city.
While I applaud the companies that have stepped in to try and pick up the pieces of the mess the city council created for no justifiable reason, the replacement services are far more expensive, unreliable, and frankly most of their mobile apps are wonky and lacking the functionality provided by Lyft/Uber. Thousands of previous drivers and passengers are turning to underground Facebook pages and essentially operate as gypsy cabs without the rules/safety of the previous services.
If Austin wants to be a leading technology city, we need to get back to our roots and let people make their own decisions on what transportation services they want to use and allow the free market to decide which companies provide the best value.
Please share and comment to help bring these services back to Austin!