In the fall Austin passed new rules on ridesharing companies including fingerprint-based background checks, a requirement for signage, and limits on where ridesharing vehicles could pick up and drop off customers.
- The rules didn’t go into effect right away, in fact they were set not to go into effect until after this fall’s election in hopes that any negative impact on ridesharing wouldn’t be felt by voters until after City Council members were re-elected.
- Ridesharing companies got a proposition on the ballot in the interim to roll back these new rules.
Proposition 1 failed this past Saturday by a margin of 56% against and 44% in favor and only 17% turnout. Austin’s Sheriff supported prop 1 because the introduction of ridesharing has driven down DUIs in the City. The proposition garnered a majority in downtown Austin, while losing outside the downtown area where people drive more regularly.
Uber and Lyft spent over $8 million dollars advocating for proposition 1, but it was very badly spent. Their advertising was misleading, suggesting the problem with Austin’s rules was that it was going to be too expensive for the city budget. They never made the case why Uber and Lyft are good, why they are better than a world without Uber and Lyft, and why the City’s rules make their business untenable.
When prop 1 failed, Uber and Lyft suspended service in Austin. TI’m a regular Uber and Lyft user. Thanks to those companies my wife and I have only one car.
Uber and Lyft weren’t banned, and they didn’t need to leave right away since Austin’s rules aren’t in even effect yet. They operate under rules requiring fingerprint background checks and city licensing of drivers in New York — but New York is a far bigger, important market than Austin. Houston requires fingerprint background checks — Lyft left Houston, and Uber is threatening to if the law isn’t changed. Uber reports that the process takes much longer and so they aren’t able to get enough drivers on the road.
With each jurisdiction taking a different approach to regulation of ridesharing, we’re likely to see bigger jurisdictions play a much more influential role than smaller ones. As I wrote last June:
- Some jurisdications, like New York City and California may be big enough that Uber acquiesces. They could become de facto regulators of what the rest of the world uses.
- We’re beginning to see regulatory competition to play this role. Each jurisdiction imposes its own costs on the businesses, and there’s a game of chicken to see how far a given company will go before they exit that market. Smaller jurisdictions won’t have a role to play because an Uber or other company will leave. California and New York represent enough revenue that companies acquiesce.
- But under this model it’s actually China that wins the regulatory war, decisions they make following a Taxi and Limousine Commission model, would dictate how the business operates and interacts with consumers and drivers. Because the biggest market is China.
In the meantime, since we don’t have two cars and I relied on Uber and Lyft regularly, I went in search of alternatives.
Getme is an Austin-based ridesharing startup that pledges to continue to operate. But their Android app is currently broken. Wingz requires prebooking. There’s the Hail-a-cab app but that’s just for a single cab company.
While it apparently works swimmingly with an iPhone, the Get Me app isn’t functioning properly with Android. It tells you that location services aren’t available and sends you to Android Play. You wind up in a loop. I contacted customer service, they said they knew about the issue and were working on it.
They haven’t updated the app. I figured out the issue, however. You have to manually give it permission to access locations. You go to Settings — Device – Applications — Application Manager – Get Me – Permissions and then choose location ‘on’. Then the app will work.
Once I got it up and running what I discovered is that their pricing is about double that of Uber and Lyft, and about the price of a cab. Uber/Lyft charge about $14.50 each way between downtown and the airport. Getme is more:
My most pressing need is to get to the airport tomorrow. Wingz offers airport transportation only, but it’s prebooked which I don’t love. I set a time for pickup but I often find I have an idea of when I’m going to leave for the airport but that doesn’t mean it’s actually when I’m going to leave for the airport. Wingz appears to be priced about halfway between Uber and a cab.
The Hail-a-cab app gets you Yellow Cab taxis on demand. Taxis are more expensive, and this gets you access to only a subset of taxis.
Austin does have public transportation — there are buses — here’s the trip planner.
I may find myself in the market for a used car soon. I’m hoping there will be a better solution soon, however.
Arcade City says they’re coming to Austin. They do peer-to-peer ridesharing, claiming not to be a middleman at all. This video isn’t inspiring of confidence, however.