Uber, Lyft to ‘Pause’ Operations in Austin After Prop 1 Fails

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The Uber Logo as the application opens. Photo by Scott Ball.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

The Uber Logo as the popular ride sharing application opens.

Voters rejected Proposition 1 on Saturday, 56% opposed and 44% in favor, marking a defeat for rideshare companies Uber and Lyft. The low turnout – 48,673 voted against the ordinance, and 38,539 voted for it – was characteristic of a May election, despite the rideshare lobby’s $8 million campaign.

Uber and Lyft issued statements Saturday that they will “pause” operations in Austin on Monday morning– leaving Austinites in a situation similar to the rideshare frustrations San Antonians experiences last spring. 

The proposition, sponsored by Uber and Lyft, was aimed to overturn a previous city ordinance which required rideshare companies to conduct fingerprint background checks on their drivers.

“Lyft and Austin are a perfect match and we want to stay in the city,” said Lyft spokeswoman Chelsea Wilson. “Unfortunately, the rules passed by City Council don’t allow true ridesharing to operate…Because of this, we have to take a stand for a long-term path forward that lets ridesharing continue to grow across the country, and will pause operations in Austin on Monday, May 9th.”

An email sent to Lyft users explaining they will "pause" operations in Austin on Monday.

An email sent to Lyft users explaining they will “pause” operations in Austin on Monday.

In emails to their subscribers, Uber and Lyft stated they would leave the city Monday at 8 a.m. and 5 a.m., respectively, if the ordinance did not pass.

Austin’s mayor, Steve Adler, released a statement Saturday night inviting the rideshare companies to stay in the city and abide by the regulations spelled out in the original ordinance.

“The people have spoken tonight loud and clear. Uber and Lyft are welcome to stay in Austin, and I invite them to the table regardless. Austin is an innovative and creative city, and we’ll need to be at our most creative and innovative now,” Adler stated.

Last December, Austin City Council passed an ordinance that created a plan to phase in fingerprint background checks for rideshare companies.

Officials from both companies cited the then-new fingerprint regulations as “burdensome and unnecessary.” They claimed their employees, who often work fewer than 20 hours per week, would be dissuaded from working at all if they have to visit an office to receive the fingerprint background check.

Huey Rey Fischer, the deputy outreach director for Uber and Lyft’s political action committee Ridesharing Works for Austin, said rideshare drivers are often students looking for extra cash or people who have just been laid off and need to make ends meet. He said the job is meant to be easy and convenient – drivers can sign up from home, create their own hours and don’t have to report to a boss.

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Image from Uber Austin’s Twitter Account.

“By adding that layer where you have to go downtown and get fingerprinted, most people would just pass on that and say, ‘You know what, it’s not worth the hassle. I’m going to go deliver for Favor or I’m going to go do X,’” said Fischer.

According to Fischer, this is what is happening to Uber right now in Houston, one of two U.S. cities where Uber continues to operate despite required fingerprint-based background checks.

“Lyft left Houston and Uber didn’t say they would leave Houston, but right now surge pricing and wait times are going through the roof because they can’t get enough drivers to meet demand,” said Huey. “We expect the same situation here if (Lyft and Uber) would stay if Prop 1 fails.”

Since the original ordinance passed in December, Ridesharing Works for Austin has spent more than $8 million campaigning, sending emails, texts, mail and making phone calls to Uber and Lyft users, reminding them to vote in Saturday’s election.

The proposition, written by Lyft and Uber representatives, gained the support of the Austin Chamber of Commerce, The University of Texas Student Government, Friends of Austin Neighbors, Downtown Neighborhood Association and Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD).

Proposition opponents  include the Austin Police Association, Austin Firefighters Association, Austin-Travis County EMS Association, Travis County Democratic Party and The Austin Chronicle.

The statements from Uber and Lyft may sound familiar to San Antonians. Both rideshare companies presented the same threat last March, when the San Antonio City Council passed an ordinance in an 8-2 vote that regulated the company’s background check process. Both companies left after the ordinance passed but returned before the year’s end, reaching a compromise with City Council, by agreeing to a pilot operating agreement that allows riders to select drivers who took a fingerprint background check.

No such compromise is currently on the table between Uber, Lyft or Austin City Council.

 

https://rivardreport.wildapricot.org

 

Top Image: The Uber logo as the application opens.  Photo by Scott Ball. 

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Austin City Council Drives Uber, Lyft Away With Regulations

Uber is Back in San Antonio

City Council Approves Rideshare Agreement, Lyft Coming Back

Mayor Calls for Return of Rideshare to San Antonio

5 thoughts on “Uber, Lyft to ‘Pause’ Operations in Austin After Prop 1 Fails

  1. I’m curious why the media calls Uber and Lyft “rideshare” companies? “Ridesharing” implies carpooling, something that actually takes cars off the road, rather than simply replacing one car with another. Years ago, taxis in DC were allowed to “rideshare”; they were allowed to pick up additional riders as they took you to your destination, as long as the new rider’s destination didn’t take you more than 6 blocks or so out of your way. After you got in, the taxidriver would pull over to ask every person he passed trying to hail a cab where the person was going, resulting in a slow and annoying ride. I have never been in an Uber that picked up another passenger en route, and I doubt the app would allow for this. So who am I “ridesharing” with? Or are all taxi companies “rideshare companies” now?

    • Susan, it’s not the media calling them “ridesharing”…it’s the companies themselves because they do offer ridesharing. I was in DC for spring break and they had an option where you could share a ride with someone else. It’s part of the app. No slowing down much because the app itself decides who is nearby and routed for the same or similar destination. And it’s the users who decide if they are willing to do that or not. If you don’t want to share, the app doesn’t put you on that part of their list. If you are willing, you share the fare if you do find someone to split with but there is no waiting around to make it happen. A friend in Austin said they also had this option. I’m not an Uber rider (spring break experience with DC Uber has definitely guaranteed that) so I’ve never attempted to see if that’s an option in SA.

      • Good to know. I used Uber a lot in its early days in various cities, but not in while, so sounds like the options have improved, and the marketing changed (no longer “Everyone’s private driver”?). Thanks.

  2. Fingerprints are now done electronically (no black ink and much more quickly since the scan is more clear and accurate than an ink print). I’m sure that rideshare programs could work with police to set up neighborhood fingerprinting operations on a quarterly basis for new drivers to register their prints without too much inconvenience. The problem seems to be that the rideshare programs want it to be their way or the highway and, as reported in another publication today, spent an average of approximately $200 per vote they got in their favor to try to swing the election their way. That money would have paid for a lot of neighborhood fingerprinting operations if they were just willing to compromise on anything.

  3. The problem seems to be that the rideshare programs want it to be their way or the highway and, as reported in another publication today, spent an average of approximately $200 per vote they got in their favor to try to swing the election their way.

    Yes, I’m sure the “Austin Police Association, Austin Firefighters Association, Austin-Travis County EMS Association, Travis County Democratic Party and The Austin Chronicle” spent no time or money on getting voters to support their way or the highway.

    Politics in the 21st century, folks! Big business (SF Bay titans) fighting big government (the unions and the Democratic Party) for the allegiance of The People(tm)!

    God bless America.

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