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Austin’s Ridesharing Debate: Future of Uber, Lyft

Events, Timeline, of Austin’s Uber, Lyft Ridesharing Debate in Austin TX

City of Austin Job Fair for Displaced Uber and Lyft Drivers

Update as of May 25

non-profit-ridesharing option
In the wake of the absence of Uber and Lyft, the city of Austin has had to deal with a large number of unemployed drivers looking for work. The city worked with the up and coming ride-sharing companies, such as GetMe, Fare, Ztrip, and Wingz, to put together a job fair in order to sign up displaced drivers. This event was held Monday May 17th through Thursday May 19th at the Highland campus of Austin Community College. Hundreds of drivers attended the event, around 500-600 on Tuesday alone. These people waited in long lines in hopes of finding employment through one of these new ride-sharing additions.

Unfortunately, many felt discouraged by the long lines, and expensive fees. With apps complying with city regulations, and attempting to create safe practices, necessary services cost a bit of money. Fees include vehicle inspections and finger-printing. Although these are important services that will help insure rider safety, these fees do add up, especially for many of the drivers that are currently unemployed. It costs $39.95 for fingerprinting background checks, and vehicle inspections range from $7 to $30 depending on the type of vehicle and the county you live in. Also, consider time spent waiting and driving to and from locations as a resource the people cannot get back.

City of Austin Introducing Non-Profit Ride-Sharing Option

The city of Austin has come up with their own solution to answer our problems. They have put together a new ride-sharing app, RideAustin, which will be available mid-June. This will be a non-profit service that will offer rides to Austin’s downtown and the Austin Bergstrom International Airport. This Austin only service will eventually expand throughout Austin, but initially will only be available in these specific areas.

This service will not only be a non-profit, but give the rider the option of paying a little extra money to donate to the charity of their choice. A ride will cost a $1.50 base charge and then $0.25 per minute. There will be surge pricing, however it will be a little different than what we are used to. Instead of automatically being faced with surge pricing during hours of high demand, surge pricing will be an option. A rider can choose if they would rather pay surge prices during busy hours, thus they will get bumped to the top of the queue. A rider can choose not to pay surge prices, but risk being lower on the queue and potentially have to wait much longer for a ride. Either way, the rider has a choice, which is unexpected.

Hopefully this option will solve the issues currently faced by riders and drivers alike, and make the absence of Uber and Lyft a nonissue.

Uber, Lyft moved out of Austin | Prop 1 Failed

Update as of May 11

May 7  Austin made its decision on Prop 1 with a vote against the Uber, Lyft crafted proposal. In total, 88,241 Austinites cast a vote in the Prop 1 election. Of those, 56% voted against the measure, causing ride-sharing companies to announce when they would be leaving Austin.

Text messages to users of ride-hailing companies started rolling in with announcements from the apps declaring when they would be moving out of town. Both Uber and Lyft left Austin by May 9, the Mon. following the Sat. election.

This is not a drama that’s alone to Austin, and that’s what has the whole world watching the result of Austin’s ride-sharing debate. When Austin handed Uber, Lyft a substantial loss on Prop 1, reporters wondered what this might mean for the future of Uber and Lyft and its ability to regulate itself.

Voters stated that they did not vote because of the aggressive marketing tactics performed by Uber, Lyft leading up to the vote on Prop 1. Together the companies spent upwards of $9 million on the campaign.

Uber, Lyft Not the Only Ride-sharing Apps in Austin

Get-Me, a Texas-born ride-hailing competitor has stepped in during the window of vacancy in Austin. They say they will comply with Cit Council regulations which include fingerprint background checks, trade dress (think the Lyft mustache) and where cabs may or may not stop to pick up passengers. Another option? Wingz, a San Francisco based startup.

Austin Begins Steps to Deregulate Cab Industry

Cab companies hit the topic of conversation as Austin Transportation Department made the recommendation May 11 to deregulate cab companies. Austin Transportation Department said that fingerprint regulations would remain in place, and some limitations on the number of cabs, and regulations on fare prices.

Did you Know? If you were involved in a crash or accident that occurred during an Uber or Lyft ride, you can contact still McMinn Law Firm for a free evaluation of your case. Find out more about our experience in Car Accident Personal Injury Cases.

Update as of May 3

Today is the last day of early voting on Prop 1. According to KXAN, voter turnout is over 44,000 in early voting. Big pushes from Uber and Lyft to get out the vote include free rides to voter stations.

Have you made your decision on ridesharing and the role of fingerprinting? May 7th is election day and the final chance to cast a vote. The last time there was a Sat. election only 19,000 voters turned out. Read on to find out the history of this debate.

Update as of April 22

The status of Uber’s drivers was settled in a class action lawsuit April 21. Uber drivers will continue to be considered independent contractors after the company agreed to concessions to pro-driver groups. Uber argued in it’s case that drivers maintain flexibility as independent contractors, but labor groups cited need for “employee” status in order to prevent Uber from sidestepping regulations that require minimum wage, and the employers’ share of Social Security.

Uber has agreed to pay $100 million to the drivers cited in a Northern California case – which could have more long term effects for the viability of the ride-hailing app in cities across the country, including Austin, TX.

Update as of April 19

As the ride-hailing vote draws near, Uber and Lyft have made headlines for their advocacy efforts. Austin City Council and opposing advocacy group, Our City, Our Safety, our Choice, criticized the TNCs for what they say is a deceptive campaign designed to confuse voters.

On May 7, voters will decide to vote against Prop 1, and keep the council passed ordinance which includes fingerprinting, or to vote for the initiative and replace the ordinance with a fingerprinting-free ordinance written by Uber and Lyft.

A Heated Debate that Experts Say, Crosses Party Lines

On April 14, KUT and the Austin Monitor hosted a ride-sharing debate between Ridesharing Works for Austin and Our City, Our Safety, our Choice political action committee.

Criticism of TNCs in May 7 Ballot Campaign

  • Uber has drawn criticism for advertisements placed when users open the app. By electronically signing that they will vote FOR Prop 1, users receive a discount.
  • Uber and Lyft have been reported to have spent about $2.2 million in the May 7 campaign.
What is Up for Vote in Uber Lyft May 7 Ballot:
  • Under the petition proposed ordinance, the city would be able to collect 1 percent fee on revenues from TNCs (in contrast to the 2 percent it would collect under the mandatory ordinance proposed by city council in December).
  • Under the petition proposed ordinance, driver fingerprinting would not be mandatory.
  • The City Law passed in December would be repealed and replaced with a new ordinance.
  • The vehicles of TNC Drivers would not be required to wear a distinctive company emblem.

Update as of Feb 8 2016

Mayor Adler revealed a new set of proposals meant to find middle-ground in the TNC debate over fingerprinting. Under the proposal, the City of Austin would enter into a Memorandum of Understanding with the TNCs. The proposal would provide for the voluntary incentive or badge or Thumbs Up! program in which drivers would voluntarily provide fingerprint at the incentive of having a “verified” status on Uber or Lyft.


Update as of Jan. 19 2016

Austin community members pulled together in a grassroots effort to collect for the 65k signatures to allow their position to be considered by Austin City Council. The coalition, that is made up of Transportation Network Companies and others, banded together to preserve the potential safety benefits in ride-sharing. Since City Council’s decision in late Dec. the organization has collected 35,000 more signatures than their initial goal of 30k.

The group aims to pass a new ordinance that would not require a fingerprint background check, or to put the measure on a ballot for voter approval. The coalition hopes to see the measure on the Nov. ballot when voters will be turning out for Presidential elections.

City Council’s Last Minute Decision on the Future of Ride-sharing Drivers

The City Council’s last meeting of the year is packed with high pressure issues, but the one that everyone’s eyes are on is the debate between the city and transportation network companies’ right to operate in the city. Because it was such a heated debate, today City Council decided not to decide. Austin City Council has made the decision that fingerprinting will be incentivized, but not required by TNC drivers through a new framework not yet released.

This fall you may have seen pink signs that popped up in Austin neighborhood yards in support of Lyft. Both transportation companies Uber and Lyft have each made extensive advocacy efforts, one with Uber’s analysis of Austin’s DWI records. An Uber petition to keep the service in Austin has almost met its goal of 35k. Many Austinites have engaged on the side of ridesharing companies. Let’s not forget – this hearing has happened the same week Austin was named “booziest” city by Match (yes the dating service.) We are a culture that likes to drink, and we are unapologetic about it. So why remove something from town that seems to alleviate Austin drinking woes?

Damages to TNC Riders

On the other side of this case are the very real, and very scary 7 reports of alleged sexual assaults (as well as 3 reports of taxi drivers.) These allegations gave reason for tougher background checks, such as fingerprinting. Sexual assault and domestic violence prevention advocate, Emily LeBlanc, fought for TNC drivers to go through the same number of background checks as a traditional cab driver. In each of the cases, she says, the women called the TNC driver after drinking alcohol so as to prevent drunk driving, and make a safe and smart decision.

An Argument Against Fingerprinting in Decision

Critics say that the background checks for Uber and Lyft drivers are too lenient because they don’t require fingerprinting – something the TNCs claim would be overly burdensome. They have threatened to leave the city if their drivers are required to have fingerprint checks before they can start working. There’s two sides to the story – and Lyft and Uber have made the stakes higher by threatening to leave Austin if the decision does not go in their favor.

Do TNC’s Reduce the Number of Accidents?

We took a look at Uber’s numbers when released back in October. The company claims that in Austin their services have made a significant impact on the number of drunk drivers on the road. They note that “the lack of convenient and readily available alternatives to driving and unfamiliarity with alternative transportation service routes and options” play a large role in decision making to drive drunk. There were all interesting statistics – but we found that the numbers reported in October were evaluations of entrance into Californian markets, not Austin.

Today’s Settlement, Tomorrow’s Framework

Today Austin City Council today announces a new framework in which both of these concerns, preventing drunk driving, and preventing assault should be addressed. That’s the hope of city council. Instead of voting for either – the newly proposed framework makes background checks optional, but incentivizes drivers to have a fingerprint background check performed.