Not Okay With Just Okay: Rideshare and Innovation in San Antonio

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A lyft driver picks up a fellow "rideshare" or transportaiton network company (TNC) supporter after the City Council Public Safety Committee meeting May 7, 2014. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

Iris Dimmick / Rivard Report

A Lyft driver picks up a fellow "rideshare" or transportation network company (TNC) supporter after the City Council Public Safety Committee meeting May 7, 2014.

Uber and Lyft might leave San Antonio on March 1 because, they claim, the City of San Antonio regulations will make it too financially burdensome to operate.

For Centro San Antonio staff, this rideshare issue is not about Uber and Lyft versus cabs. This is about asking what kind of city we want to be and if we are okay with being okay. A lot of time and energy have gone into asking whether or not Uber and Lyft should be able to operate in San Antonio. This isn’t about the back and forth of safety statistics and the threshold for public safety. We do not believe Lyft and Uber represent a greater threat to passenger safety than getting into any cab or that one service is inherently better than the other. This is about a level of innovation that San Antonio needs to continue pursuing.

This is about looking forward and planning for San Antonio’s future.

The City of San Antonio recently approved the expenditure of $41 million in large part to bring the NCAA Final Four and thousands of basketball fans to our city in 2018. That same year, San Antonio will also celebrate its 300th anniversary. These two events will give San Antonio a chance to showcase itself to the nation. About 21 million people watched last year’s basketball game and the anniversary will bring thousands of visitors to downtown.

The delegation barge makes its way through the Rivercenter Lagoon during the "Bring It" River Rally for the NCAA Committee delegation. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

The NCAA Committee delegation barge makes its way through the Rivercenter Lagoon during the “Bring It” River Rally. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

What kind of San Antonio do we want them to see and experience? Let’s make sure these visitors talk about our restaurants and bars; the Museum Reach; how bike friendly our city is; the Pearl; and our support for startups. Let’s make sure they don’t describe San Antonio as a city that is okay with being okay.

People who come to San Antonio for the basketball games will do more than just hang around the Alamodome, they will be using their phones to tweet and post on Facebook about San Antonio in real time. When they open their phones and attempt to access the ridesharing apps they have become accustomed to in their own cities, will they find themselves limited in San Antonio? How will that conversation play on Facebook and Twitter and in the media? Will San Antonio be chastised as a small town that is afraid of change or will it be celebrated as progressive and forward thinking?

The City recently began crafting the Comprehensive Plan for the year 2040. This is our city’s roadmap to the future. Tied to that plan are Sustainability and Transportation Plans. Are the people writing these plans going to be instructed to leave out rideshare as a transit option in another 25 years or are they going to be instructed to pretend we can have it in the future but we can’t have it now?

Planning for the future involves making hard choices now.

We can build a city where young people want to live; where young people want to raise their own families; where young people can get ahead and grow their careers; where young people can start businesses; a city where a young person can be somebody. San Antonio can be a city where risk and innovation are rewarded. Or we can be a city that is okay with being okay.

San Antonio has embraced innovation before and we can do it again. We understand that innovation is risky. Planning for the year 2040 is risky. Building the River Walk was risky. Starting an insurance company that serves generations of military families was risky. Inviting 80,000 strangers to our city to watch a basketball game is risky. Life is risky. Innovation is risky. Being afraid of change, of innovation, of risk is dangerous.

In 2018, we will shine a light on San Antonio; it’s up to us now to set the events of our 300th anniversary on the right course. In the meantime though, we have a lot of young people, entrepreneurs and recent college graduates living in our city. We can show them a “city on the rise” that embraces technology, urbanism, creativity, education, innovation, and opportunity. Or we can prepare for them to leave.

We believe we should show them:

  • a city that is building a world-class urban park
  • a city with an awesome arts scene and cultural districts like the Zona Cultural and the Southtown Arts District
  • a city that is one of the oldest, most historic cities in the country and also a progressive, 21st century city of innovation
  • a city where Geekdom startups recently surpassed $25 million in investment
  • a city that will construct 85 miles of greenway trails in ten years
  • a city that took public art to a whole new level with the SAGA
  • a city that is revitalizing its urban core with the redevelopment of San Pedro Creek and the Museum and Mission reaches
  • a city that isn’t afraid of innovation

Let’s show them a city that welcomes Uber and Lyft and other innovative and creative companies. Let’s show them a city that looks for the good in opportunity and innovation. Let’s show them a city where people stand up for opportunity.

Let’s support a rewriting of the Transportation Network Company (TNC)ordinance to resolve the issue of this transportation dichotomy. Right now, TNCs want to operate in San Antonio but don’t want to operate under the same rules as cab companies. Cab companies want the government to protect their monopoly on transit services. We could clear a path for TNCs to legally operate in San Antonio by revising the standards we set for cab companies to those requested by TNCs. This would create a playing field for transit and technology companies to operate on equal footing and allow the market to determine how much of each service is necessary and sustainable.

This issue needs to be resolved for the betterment of San Antonio’s future. And that future includes rideshare, bikes, light rail, bus rapid transit, and streetcar. It also includes us. We want to show you a city that isn’t okay with being okay.

*Featured/top image: A Lyft driver picks up a fellow rideshare supporter after the City Council Public Safety Committee meeting May 7, 2014. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

Related Stories:

City Crafting Alternative Rideshare Ordinance

Uber to Leave San Antonio, Lyft on the Fence

USAA Offers Rideshare Insurance in Colorado 

Commentary: ‘Rideshare’ Needs Rules

San Antonio Imposes Strict Rideshare Rules

9 thoughts on “Not Okay With Just Okay: Rideshare and Innovation in San Antonio

  1. Pretend it’s Walmart rather than Uber and Lyft. Pretend that they are threatening to leave the city if the city forces them to follow the same laws that all other retail stores already operating in the city follow.

    Would you still be writing lofty articles about the future of this city?

    You said ” Right now, TNCs want to operate in San Antonio but don’t want to operate under the same rules as cab companies.”

    Well Robert Revard and others have already said they think the TNCs and cabs should have equal protection under the law, meaning they should have the same regulations. If the Uber and Lyft can’t figure out how to make a profit under the current regulation then they lack creativity and we don’t need that kind of “innovation” in our city. Lets let another TNC fill the gap. How about one that doesn’t steal tips from it’s workers like Uber does? How about one that isn’t focused on growing shareholder value? How about one that is owned by the drivers? How about one that respects local laws and doesn’t ignore the laws our city has put in place?

    Lets show Uber what kind of city we want to be. Lets be some of the many modern and forward thinking cities around the world who aren’t letting a 41 Billion Dollar company push them around.

  2. “Right now, TNCs want to operate in San Antonio but don’t want to operate under the same rules as cab companies.” I believe the TNCs would be happy to operate under the same rules as cab companies. The current ordinance, however, is much more onerous than the regulations applied to cabs. TNC drivers are required to have 33 times as much insurance as cabbies. They must pay for a special $450 yearly additional permit to pick up fares at the airport, which cabbies are not required to pay. (What, one wonders, is the “public safety” motivation behind that particular regulation?)

    This ordinance was not designed to protect the public. It was designed to ensure that TNCs would not be financially viable enterprises. It was done deliberately, in exchange for cash from the taxi companies, in the form of campaign contributions. Now, after massive nationwide negative media coverage and pushback from constituents, the council realizes it bit off more than it can chew, and is having to renege on its quid pro quo. If, as Simon Cameron said, an honest politician is one who stays bought, then this council is not very honest.

    • The Airport Permit is the same for Limo, Taxi and TNC. The only place where the permits are different between Taxi and TNC is the actual operating permit. For a taxi its $440, for a TNC its $160. Given that disparity, I’m sure you will proclaim that this ordinance was designed to ensure taxis would not be financially viable in San Antonio.

    • “TNC drivers are required to have 33 times as much insurance as cabbies.”

      That is false. The driver is only required to have state mandated liability insurance on his personal vehicle. The $1 Million dollar policy (where you get the 33 times number) must be provided by the TNC and is only required between the time the driver accepts a fair and drops that fair off. This provision of the current code was designed specifically to match up with exactly what the TNCs already provide, (though the TNCs had a smaller insurance policy for that little window between accepting a fair and the fair getting in the car). The council clearly felt it necessary to tailor their rules to suit the two major TNCs operating in the city and not burden them with a regulation that went above and beyond what they were already providing, while codifying that level of insurance so that any other TNC has to insure to the same level as Uber and Lyft.

      Thanks for sending me links to the city code John, it’s certainly strengthened my position on this issue.

  3. If all these taxi defenders would spend less time online and more time actually improving cab service in this town, maybe this wouldn’t be an issue…

    Quit bitching about unfair competition, and being Luddites about “shiny new apps.” Yellow Cab had an app, and they ignored it when I tried to request service. Stop whining and start serving customers.

  4. Erik Olsen, thanks for bringing reason to this entitled group calling EXCEPTIONALISM innovation. Those of you who don’t want to put up with the working class ambience of cabs might want to examine your elitist entitlement. I’ve called cabs everytime I go to the airport and they have never once failed me. Neither do I know anyone personally who has been left hanging.
    This is after all only about getting a ride somewhere, but to do that you are willing to decrease public safety, give a couple of companies an unfair advantage and deregulate. All at the expense of the working class. And this is precisely what the CEOs want you to act like and when council protected their current companies, then they say things, if you don’t want this then you are anti-innovation.

    How about innovating something that doesn’t undermine workers? bilking them of tips and having them foot the bill for using your app.

    How about Uber tracking the whereabouts of journalists, threatening to hand over sensitive data when criticized.

    How about the San Antonio cab drivers who (Yellow cab or not) who already work here? they are members of our community, they have children and families to support. Does innovation stand in support of them? Are we willing to sacrifice them for innovation and deregulation? The free market logic says yes. Centro SA doesn’t mention the independent cab companies that will suffer due to this, not once. So much for supporting small business. Is this ethical? Is it moral?

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