Graham Weston: A City on the Rise Needs Rideshare

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Graham Weston, chairman and CEO of Rackspace, introduces Mayor Julián Castro during Centro San Antonio's "The Future of Downtown" luncheon, Castro's last, scheduled address as mayor of San Antonio. July 10, 2014. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

Graham Weston, chairman and CEO of Rackspace. Photo by Iris Dimmick

Dear Mayor Taylor and Members of the City Council:

I am writing to you today to support ridesharing companies such as Uber and Lyft. I understand that a vote has been scheduled for this Thursday on a draft proposal whose unnecessarily burdensome regulations would discourage these firms from operating in our city. I urge you to postpone any action on regulation of ridesharing companies this week.

A vote for this proposal would cast San Antonio as one of the few cities in the nation to resist the popular innovations in urban transportation that Uber and Lyft represent. It would seriously undermine the progress that we’ve made together in recent years to promote San Antonio as America’s next great city and a city on the rise — not a city that resists new technologies to protect incumbent businesses through regulation. Uber and Lyft will increase competition and force all transportation options to service us better.

As one of the founders of Rackspace, I’ve helped build a fast-growing, global company in San Antonio that has created thousands of good jobs here and on four continents. We see the city as a partner in our success, based on a mutual enthusiasm for the ways in which internet technologies and social media are reshaping our world for the better.

The key to Rackspace’s growth, in competition with giants like Amazon and Google, is what we call Fanatical Support: the exceptional service and specialized expertise that we deliver to our 300,000 business customers in 120 countries. We have built a culture at Rackspace that attracts talented engineers to San Antonio, and retains thousands of the ones who grew up here and once had to move elsewhere to pursue careers in Internet technology.

But our ability to lure and keep the talented people we need to run our company is affected by what San Antonio has to offer as a place to live. The Millennial generation has made clear, in surveys and by voting with its feet, that it wants urban living options in neighborhoods like those in Southtown and the Pearl Brewery area. Members of this generation also want modern, convenient transportation options that free them from driving a car and hunting for parking every time they want to go somewhere.

Most Millennials (and even many friends my age) use the Lyft or Uber apps on their iPhones whenever they need a ride. Such services, like the ones run by Uber and Lyft, are especially useful in cities like San Antonio, where low density and far-flung suburbs make for poor taxi service. In a growing number of cities, ridesharing services are enabling users to give up their cars entirely — easing traffic and parking for those who still drive.

Uber is highly popular in 250 cities worldwide, including Austin (where the service has won local government approval) and Dallas (where approval is expected this week.)  These cities have declined to protect their incumbent taxi companies from fresh competition. And the users of ridesharing services have experienced no more safety or liability issues than have users of traditional taxis. Only two U.S. cities — Las Vegas and St. Louis — have rejected ridesharing services. Does San Antonio really want to join that club?

Ever since then-Mayor Julián Castro asked me to serve as a co-chair of his SA2020 initiative, I have worked, both as a proud native of San Antonio and as a real estate developer, to help build a more-vibrant city center. All great cities have attractive urban cores, including not only their downtowns but also the adjacent neighborhoods and commercial areas and parks. Across the country today, ridesharing services are a transportation option that Millennials use to differentiate innovative, livable cities — Austin, Boston, New York, Portland, San Francisco, Seattle — from all the rest.

As the city’s leaders, you’ve worked hard to promote policies that keep our city on the rise. It is imperative that we not put that hard work at risk through onerous regulations that would drive both ridesharing services out of San Antonio. A vote in favor of the proposed ordinance would send
a message that San Antonio resists new technologies, new business models, and any new industry that disrupts the status quo.

Let us not be a city that resists change by regulating away consumer choice. The very competition that the traditional taxi industry fears is the same change agent that will force it to raise its game, to the benefit of San Antonio and its citizens.

Let’s take some time to do what hundreds of other cities have done to address any legitimate concerns about safety and liability, but in a way that doesn’t discourage ridesharing companies that have been welcomed almost everywhere else. Please work toward sensible, balanced ridesharing regulations in 2015 to arrive at a solution that makes San Antonio stronger and welcomes the innovation Uber and Lyft bring us.

Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

Rackspace Co-founder and Chairman Graham Weston

*Featured/top image: (FILE PHOTO) Graham Weston, chairman and CEO of Rackspace, introduces Mayor Julián Castro during Centro San Antonio’s “The Future of Downtown” luncheon, Castro’s last, scheduled address as mayor of San Antonio. July 10, 2014.  Photo by Iris Dimmick.

This story was originally published on Tuesday, Dec. 9, 2014.

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23 thoughts on “Graham Weston: A City on the Rise Needs Rideshare

  1. Totally agree with Graham’s take on this. I also respect those on city council who are thinking ahead and not succumbing to the Taxi consortium/lobby. I know they show up to council sessions, make campaign contributions and vote but really, how influential can and should they be? There is much more at stake here

  2. Mr. Weston,

    Well said. A city on the rise needs to cater to tourism and tech workers or there will be a mass exodus to Austin, TX. Myself included. Coming from a a major city myself (Washington DC), I find it encouraging that the city promote disruptive technologies and services that enhance the city, not keep it in the dark ages.

    -T. Fitzgerald Jones

  3. This is the message more people need to read and be aware of on this upcoming vote by the city council. So great to see Graham and other city leaders standing up and having their voice heard on an issue that will have a big impact on the growth and future of San Antonio.

  4. Well. San Antonio is high up on the lame-o-meter when it comes to progress. We’re slacking in the Mass Transit club. We’re slacking in the No NFL Team club. The Small Skyline club to say the least. I’d say lets do big things and show what the 7th soon to be 5th largest city in the U.S.A is.

  5. Well said. Just imagine a few years from now when visitors coming to San Antonio pop open their phones to try and get a ride from the airport. No Uber or Lyft? Where the HELL have I landed? We’re gonna look like Podunk….simple as that….and a city’s reputation travels just like people do….

  6. Thank you for taking the time to write such a thoughtful letter. Hopefully Council members will read it and heed your advice. Otherwise, they are just making it more difficult to bring talented young professionals to our city.

  7. I hope city leadership can take this advice to heart. He’s right, once you try a rideshare service it doesn’t make much sense to use traditional taxi services again.

  8. Dear cab lobby,
    You are on your way out. Change your business model. If we are really the pro innovation, capitalism promoting city that we love, you will be out in 5 years anyway. Suck it up and allow people from your favorite free market, right wing, tea party, non-Union, no labor centered market, determine the services that our city wants. Really? You folks want more regulation to limit the free market? Not me!
    https://www.uber.com/cities Pretty much in service in every major city in the first world. Wow.

  9. Hey City Council, please don’t bend to the aggressive Cab lobby, let’s have some competition so that everyone has to provide excellent service and competitive rates and no one type of service has a monopoly! Let’s keep Uber & Lyft in the city!

  10. I don’t understand why this city is so afraid to try anything new. It seems that we’ll never be as progressive as, for example, Austin or Seattle.. This city’s idea of progress and growth is killing trees and building cookie cutter communities and then cookie cutter shopping centers which remain 75% empty. Cookie cutter community, dead shopping center, HEB, Valero, and Walmart, that’s the sad pattern of growth here.

  11. The picture above is not Uber but Lyft, another ride sharing community. Less expensive then Uber with high quality drivers. if you want to try Lyft sign up with this code and you get 10.00 ride free JOHN4833.

  12. There is something else that never gets mentioned. I work as an Ambassador at the airport. Before Uber and Lyft started working here, I served disappointed passengers from places like San Francisco and Seattle. Not just because we didn’t have Uber at the time, but because they had CREDIT with Uber and wanted to use that credit get a ride here instead of paying money out of their pocket. Uber (and maybe Lyft) reward their frequent customers with free rides, and they want to take advantage of them when they can. The ideal place is when they arrive at an airport which is usually further from their destination than at home going to work–a long-distance freebie is better than a short-distance freebie, and the reaction is negative if they can’t use it in San Antonio. (By the way, Rackspace has already opened an Austin branch in one of their malls. Why? Because too many of their potential employees would not come to San Antonio.)

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