Scott Ball / Rivard Report
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.”
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.
“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.
Top Image: The Uber logo as the application opens. Photo by Scott Ball.