Uber to Leave San Antonio, Lyft on the Fence

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Rideshare advocates stand in support of Lyft and Uber during a City Council meeting that resulted in approval of strict rideshare regulation. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

Iris Dimmick / Rivard Report

Rideshare advocates stand in support of Lyft and Uber during a City Council meeting that resulted in approval of strict rideshare regulation in December 2014 that ultimately took effect April 1, 2015.

Uber management sent a letter to Mayor Ivy Taylor and City Council Wednesday, warning that the rideshare service will leave San Antonio on March 1 unless the recently-passed existing ordinance is modified or repealed.

Uber representatives say the new ordinances raises “substantial barriers” to ridehsare companies operating in the city. The ordinance was aggressively pushed by the local taxi industry and former Police Chief William McManus.

Mayor Taylor and Councilmember Rebecca Viagran (D3), chair of the City’s Public Safety Committee, which studied the issue and recommended the restrictive measure while supporting the local taxi industry, led Council in approving the ordinance. Mayor Taylor and some of the council members who supported the new ordinance have acknowledged that they have never personally experienced the rideshare service and refuse to do so.

The existing vehicle for hire ordinance was amended to include and regulate rideshare, or transportation network companies (TNCs), in December via a 7-2 City Council vote that left Uber and Lyft, another national rideshare company operating in San Antonio, in limbo for three months until the ordinance takes effect on March 1.

Both companies have continued to operate, despite cease and desist orders from the San Antonio Police Department, while reviewing what the impact of the local ordinance will be to its drivers and its business model, which connects drivers of personal vehicles to customers via a mobile phone application.

“After much consideration, it is clear that these regulations will cripple Uber’s ability to serve drivers and riders in San Antonio. A vote in support of these regulations was a vote against ridesharing, and if the rules remain unchanged, Uber will have no choice but to leave San Antonio,” stated Chris Nakutis, general manager for Uber Texas in the letter sent out early Wednesday evening. “We respectfully ask the city to repeal these burdensome requirements and replace them with smart regulations, like those adopted by Austin, that protect public safety while at the same time fostering technological innovations that enhance transportation options and economic development for the city.”

Click here to download Uber’s letter.

The new ordinance will require TNCs to provide insurance for drivers when the app is turned on, whether they have picked up a passenger or not, and requires driver and vehicle background checks and inspections. The rules would require new drivers to physically submit paperwork and other materials that rideshare representatives say put an undue burden on part-time.

“The Council worked real hard to strike a balance that would focus on public safety,” Mayor Taylor said Wednesday night. “So we had looked forward to Uber operating for a kind of a pilot period and then coming back and reevaluating it a few months on to see how it goes. I hope that they’ll consider doing that.”

Their exit of the market prevents Council from analyzing how the new ordinance would have worked or not worked, she said.

Rideshare representatives agree with checks and inspections, but not to the degree that the local ordinance demands. They also point to the insurance grey area when the app is turned on a car, but has not been assigned to pick up a customer. New products such as the one offered by USAA in Colorado offer an alternative to rideshare company insurance covering that grey area.

“Expensive fees, excessive insurance regulations, and burdensome processes do not enhance public safety; they will eliminate a safe transportation option,” Nakutis stated.

Lyft representatives did not go so far as to say they would cease operation in San Antonio.

“We hope the City Council will revisit these regulations and allow Lyft drivers to continue providing safe, affordable, and friendly rides to people in San Antonio. Unfortunately, without any changes to the law before the March 1st date of compliance, it will be extremely difficult for our peer-to-peer model to operate in the city,” stated Lyft spokesperson Chelsea Wilson in an email.

So, that’s a tentative maybe.

“San Antonio is a city that will lead in technology, innovation, and emerging markets. I look forward to continuing to work with my colleagues and the industry so that we encourage a safe, competitive, and user-friendly private transportation system,” stated District 8 Councilmember Ron Nirenberg in an email, who was on his way back from a Council trip to Washington D.C.

Nirenberg and District 4 Councilmember Rey Saldaña were the only two that voted against the regulations.

One irony noted by many observers is that the anti-rideshare ordinance gained strong support from Mayor Taylor and City Council even though taxi service in the city has been notoriously sub-standard. Late or non-arriving taxis are not unusual, and dispatchers often promise on-time car arrivals that never materialize. Taxi drivers flouting traffic laws and driving aggressively in dense traffic are the norm in the urban core and are not curbed by police.

One fear now is that San Antonio, the largest city in the country to reject all public transportation options other than buses, will now become known as the city where carshare failed and where city officials rejected rideshare along with urban bike lanes and complete streets.

This story was originally published on Wednesday, Feb. 4, 2015. 

*Featured/top image: Rideshare advocates stand in support of Lyft and Uber during a City Council meeting that resulted in approval of strict rideshare regulation in December 2014 that will take effect March 1, 2015. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

Related Stories:

USAA Offers Rideshare Insurance in Colorado 

Commentary: ‘Rideshare’ Needs Rules

Commentary: Does Rideshare Regulation Save Lives?

San Antonio Imposes Strict Rideshare Rules

Graham Weston: A City on the Rise Needs Rideshare

Villarreal Backs Rideshare, Van de Putte Follows Suit

48 thoughts on “Uber to Leave San Antonio, Lyft on the Fence

    • Interim Mayor Taylor will be remembered as a huge “FAIL” with protectionist thinking that keeps San Antonio from enjoying the advances of technology that the rest of the NFL cities currently enjoy. We’re better than this Ivy!!

  1. This excerpt really says it all: “One fear now is that San Antonio, the largest city in the country to reject all public transportation options other than buses, will now become known as the city where carshare failed and where city officials rejected rideshare along with urban bike lanes and complete streets.”

    • Uber is not synonymous with bike lanes and complete streets. On the contrary, it’s really just cars of a different color. Buses and streetcars and light rail and heavy rail are transit options. Alternative transportation is bikes, walking, and transit. Uber is just a hired driver who uses their car instead of yours. They don’t make the streets a better place for people who use alternative transportation, and they don’t make transit a better option.

      Seems it was reported the cost of compliance was $150 per driver. That’s not onerous or over-regulation. Many businesses burden similar costs. Under Uber’s reasoning we should drop background checks on home healthcare providers, or any other industry that requires background checks.

      They haven’t pulled out yet, and since they operated for months without being in compliance with existing regulations, I am skeptical that they wouldn’t just continue to operate without complying with the reduced requirements in the new ordinance. Whether they stay or go, it’s not a service I have ever used in the past or imagine that I would ever use in the future. I’d rather have real transit options and a better cycling environment, not some other guy’s car.

      • Kevin, having not experienced the Uber or Lyft rideshare services, certainly leaves you only opinionated. Uber is not just taking another “guys” car. It’s the quality of service and quality of control measures that protect both the driver and rider. The app itself is a technological wonder. Both Rider and Driver can rank each other’s experience to their ride. It’s a mutual system that rewards drivers and riders for being at your best. The application can request a driver and allow the rider, to literally see on the app, precisely where his or her driver is . Try it. Just once. I’ll even give you a promotional code “4v6bs” to get you 20 dollars off of your first ride. I service the Austin area. I am a certified driving instructor and have passed national crime and sex offender background checks. Every rider I have asked about their experience says “I LOVE Uber, and will never use anything else.” That speaks volumes. I offer umbrella service and bottled water to all my passengers.

        • Rudy,

          You missed my point. Uber is a car service. Your argument is it is a nice car service, nicer than taxis. I am not interested in a car service, even a nice one. I am interested in a better pedestrian, cycling and transit environment. It’s that simple.

          • Kevin,

            Rudy didn’t miss your point. You didn’t even know what your point was. You’re interested in a better pedestrian, cycling, and transit environment? Uber takes nothing away from the ability for San Antonio to develop that. Why are you even commenting here?

  2. Uber is for people that want to drive a taxi, but not be licensed or have their background checked. Skirting the regulations that are there to protect the public is not a good thing. Good riddance.

    • No…that is incorrect. Uber drivers are part timers who want to get people home safely and make a little money on the side. Since it is a personal vehicle…it is kept in much better condition and the drivers actually arrive on time!

  3. Poor Uber doesn’t seem to understand that sending letters to the City Council will not do any good. They need to send Money. That’s what the Taxi’s did. Right Rebecca.

  4. iris

    would be nice if you could do some research on the subject instead of just posting quotes from people without the entire story, but this is the theme of the Rivard report trying to be first without doing the research

    please i beg you before you spread more half truth googles rideshare and read the articles from the other BIG cities. Uber is not a good company they are being sued by no less than 9 cities in the usa. I wont do your research for you, that is your job

    best wishes
    Andrew W

    • Andrew:

      I’m sorry that you aren’t satisfied with my coverage. However, this is a story about a recent development in the rideshare issue/debate that is going on in San Antonio. We have published several stories about the topic, this one is perhaps less in-depth because it is merely that: an update. I understand that there are several lawsuits and disputes over rideshare across the country, but that is not what this particular article is about. This is about the local, most recent happenings in a string of developments. More will come, researched and ready for your consumption, as the story progresses.

      As far as the Rivard Report “theme” that you’ve observed, I will have to simply disagree with you on that. Feel free to email me at iris@rivardreport.com to talk more.

      Best Wishes,

  5. Michael McClain’s comment is either blatantly deceiving or willfully ignorant- perhaps just as he wants to keep SA citizens regarding ride-share services.

    Uber DOES in fact perform background checks AND just like with eBay, its drivers have a rider experience/feedback profile so you can see who is coming to pick you up. Whereas it’s a total crapshoot on the quality of (and that’s assuming even IF) a taxi that ever shows up.

    What’s more, before you even get into the car, the proposed route is automatically shown along with estimate fare and is tracked on your phone in real time so you know instantly if the driver leads you astray. Whereas a cab driver is free to take the “long-cut” and pad his fare for unsuspecting riders unfamiliar with the area or from out of town.

    Is it a perfect, fail-safe system? Of course not, but neither is taking a taxi, riding a bus nor driving yourself.

    No sir, the *only* people who are against these services are the abusive and corrupt taxi medallion holders who have for too long held a monopoly on the system. And they’re understandably seeking to protect their return on investment (financial bottom line) for all the bribes, err, campaign donations, they’ve been making for years.

    Just as fileshare changed the way music and movies are bought and sold (ever step into a Blockbuster Video or Sam Goody record store anymore?), rideshare apps are transforming public transportation options. It would indeed be a black eye on the City of San Antonio if we turn our backs on such progress.

  6. Cab service in SA is unprofessional, unreliable, and a major contributor to the drunk driving problem that currently exists. It’s funny how “skirting the regulations that are there to protect the public” actually ends up better serving the public, Mr. McClain. Those regulations are there to protect a substandard monopoly, not to protect the population at large.

  7. Cab service in SA is unprofessional, unreliable, and a major contributor to the drunk driving problem that currently exists. It’s funny how “skirting the regulations that are there to protect the public” actually ends up better serving the public, Mr. McClain. Those regulations are there to protect a substandard monopoly, not to protect the population at large.

  8. I’m opening a day care center in your neighborhood. Why bother doing a lengthy background check on my part-time teachers? And by the way, don’t hassle me about the safety of my building or playground equipment. If you don’t trust me, or you don’t like it, I’ll close shop and move elsewhere.

    • How’s that false equivalency working out for you?

      I know, I know. Logical fallacies are SO easy to use! That’s probably why they’re so generally frowned upon.

  9. Let’s have a manifestation to keep Uber in San Antonio!!! If they do it in other countries why not here? The city should adhere to their people’s needs…and a BIG NEED in San Antonio is multiple ways of public transportation…..1. Light rail system shut down 2. Uber shut down 3. Lyft will shut down


    What are we? A city without public transportation options!!! Everyone should see the etiquette that Taxi drivers have…In new years I was kicked out of a taxi simply because I wasnt going far enough…..I chose not to drink and drive so taxi it was and oh my my what an unpleasant surprise!!!

    I had to wait an hour in 30 degree rainy weather for a cab to agree to take me home…I guess in their minds a 4 mile safe ride home for the passenger is not worth the money.

    So in conclusion….VIA transportation lacks late night and efficient transportation, the city keeps shutting down additional public transportation methods, and we…..WE SHOULD ALL DRIVE DRUNK TO KEEP FEEDING THE COUNTY MONEY AND DEATHS FROM DRUNK DRIVERS….(sarcasm)

  10. This is so infuriating. While Uber does have its issues, the regs that the Council wants to put upon it are not meant to protect the consumer…they are meant to drive Uber out, as it is clearly doing. Which leaves US on the short end of the stick. I have never had a problem getting a ride through Uber quickly, whether it is at peak time or 3 in the morning to get to the airport, whereas having to call dispatch to get a cab is an exercise riddled with anxiety and anger, as the cabs get “lost” or run “late” and most certainly take the most inefficient routes to get to your destination. It’s a real shame that City Council is too afraid of the taxi lobby. I wonder if this would have gone differently if Castro had stuck around to complete his term.

  11. For a city with a huge drunk driving problem, I would love to see SA offer us more solutions. Raking in mass amounts of money from offenders due to fines and court fees will not stop people from drinking. People will imbibe when they want to. A little off topic, but what I’m getting at is that we need options for getting us around as this is not a walkable city by any means..nowhere in TX is. Uber is one step in that direction, another option. No one out at night is not going to wait 1 hour for a taxi or 2 plus hours for a bus ride home.

  12. This is so completely disheartening. I have used Uber ALOT and taxis as well. Uber is 1000 x more reliable, professional and SAFE!!!!!!

  13. This is very disappointing. Instead of the city on the rise, it seems like we’re wanting to go back in time again The city Council was wrong on their decision.

  14. Lame sauce. Thanks City Council. Back to being gouged by cab drivers that may or may not show up somewhat close to time. Argh! #thisiswhywecanthavenicethings

  15. This is extremely embarrassing for our entire city and will be a huge red flag to all young professionals considering moving here that this is NOT a youth friendly place.

    I do not see who benefits from this.

  16. Sad. Rideshares, complete streets and urban bike lanes have all failed in San Antonio. And we wonder why we can’t build a higher paying job base here in San Antonio. Young people see these things and move to Austin or farther up the road. ‪#‎KeepSanAntonioLame‬

    • Portland, Oregon has state-of-the-art transportation, walkable neighborhoods, sidewalks, and city-wide bike trails. It’s a hipster’s paradise, and young folks flock there in droves.

      Portland rejected Uber as well.

      • Yes but the people of portland voted for alternative transportation infrastructure and they got it. What has San Antonio done?

        Also, Uber worked a deal with Portland and is coming back in March.

        • According to a local news outlet in Portland, the city wants Uber “to make sure comprehensive background checks are conducted, a million dollars worth of insurance is on every vehicle for riders and every vehicle is inspected by a mechanic.”

          Do these requirements seem unreasonable? Portland and Uber are trying to work out a compromise, it seems.

          Here in San Antonio, Uber doesn’t get its way, so the company gathers its marbles and storms out of the playground.

  17. One of those all too common moments where you realize that SA will have to be dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st Century. Perhaps the next generation of SA residents will have usable side walks, broad transportation options and safe bike lanes.

  18. Andrew W…Why do you think Uber is having a difficult time getting sanctioned in various cities? They’re getting into the taxi cab companies revenue. Get a clue.

    Kevin…of course Uber is safer. We’re driving our own cars, for God’s sake!

    The whole issue boils down to an arrogant, egotistical former police chief who had his toes stepped on when Uber refused to “cease and desist”. He came back with both barrels blasting. He was not a member of the task force, but insisted on submitting his own regulations. It all stinks. The head of the task force creating the regulations received money from the cab companies for her election campaign. It’s about politics. Mayor Taylor sounded like a buffoon when she said we shouldn’t be compared to Austin and Houston, where Uber is working successfully, because we are more progressive. Oh please Mayor! I have given over 1200 rides to satisfied San Antonians. Most say they will never take a cab again. There are many good reasons. Please don’t take that option away.

  19. I am deeply disappointed in a Mayor Taylor! First she stops the possibility of Rail system that may have led to more rails to help folks without a car get to work from one side of town to another (1st thing she did when she took interim office); then, you cut Uber & Lyft out of the picture. These are very outdated actions from a very non-progressive mindset. Please do us a favor and quit now. I am embarrassed to be living in this city with this overly-conservative mayor negatively influencing our council members. You may have a nice car Mayor Taylor, with all due respect, but many low-income/middle-income folks do not/cannot afford the privilege of owning a car!

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