How to Get Around in Austin Now That Uber and Lyft are Gone

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.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Do you know anything about alternatives in Houston? We will be there next month, at the airport.
    How about Super Shuttle, other than you have to precook them too? Too unsophisticated?
    Thanks for you blog, and your help.

  2. “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.”

    Exactly, those companies have a national strategy to force the government’s hand through flaunting the law until they build enough users to apply pressure.

    Now they have found themselves at odds with the voters in the community they serve and their elected leaders so they decided to throw a tantrum.

  3. @Red 17% voter turnout. I’m sure the demographics of uber also show the majority of their users are young who in turn have low voter tunrouts. This is a win only for the taxi cartel and the politicians they funded. Anyone who acually needs to use the service will now have fewer options and higher prices.
    Those who actually use these apps can tell you ridesharing apps are cheaper and have better service than cabs, it’s not even close.

    I would like to know how many of those voters even use the service. I would bet not many.

  4. Isn’t it ironic how Texas claims to be business friendly but in fact is just the same pay to play crony capitalism that you find elsewhere. No shocker that these companies do well in California

  5. Last time I was in Austin, I used Capitol Metro, I’m fairly sure the bus goes directly from downtown to the airport every 30 min for about $2. Austin has real-time AVL on their buses, you can see next arrival times at stops using the “Transit” app. Ride is also like 30 min, maybe that’s too much time for you to burn, but it can be a relatively freeing option and you should consider using Google maps for trip planning rather than their own trip planner, Google just makes it so much easier and it’s relatively universal for transit across the world. I try to ride transit wherever I go, not always the easiest but it’s just something I like to do.

  6. “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.”

    From what I’ve heard this isn’t correct. They had to leave because the previous law that Prop 1 would have repealed was implemented to take effect on a rolling basis, and required at least 25% compliance by now. Since the Prop failed they had to leave immediately.

  7. @Manuel again, it was a business decision because failing to meet the 25% threshold wouldn’t result in revocation of operating authority. In fact the city ordinance doesn’t contrain the thresholds, city implementation of the policy notes thresholds and that there would be financial penalties that haven’t actually been set out for violating the thresholds. They didn’t have to leave because the policy wasn’t fully implemented and even if it was licenses to operate weren’t at risk.

  8. Hi Gary, maybe it’s finally time to lay down the cash on that Tesla from the Hyatt event!!

    In all seriousness, I hope this gets sorted out sooner rather than later. Uber & Lyft have made things so much better for consumers, even with their inevitable negatives, I’d hate to see this domino to other cities.

  9. I feel safer in a Uber that does not have a fingerprinted driver than I do in a cab with a fingerprinted drive. Let the market choose what they want. Keep big brother out of it.

  10. $14.50 to downtown from AUS? Probably not a living wage, much less one that supports some regulation and background checking of drivers, which to me is the absolute minimum if my family is using either service. And I’m a red voter (looking for someone other than Trump)

    Ever heard of the axiom, “if something is too good to be true it probably is”? That’s whats happening here. And will continue to happen across the country. Eventually Uber and Lyft will be fighting to supply a much larger legal base of taxis and minicabs (like in the UK) with software – but the revolution is over. Buy the car.

  11. @Gary: Suggest you take one of those pedi-taxis to the airport or just stand out on I35 with your luggage and make use of your thumb.

  12. A few things:
    1. What about all the lost income for the drivers? I talked to a lot of drivers, a good majority of them are not full time drivers and cannot hold 9-5 or continuous 8 hour jobs to family or other very valid reasons. Forget benefits, work place rights and entitlements, they have zip nothing nada now. For those that want to unionize and fair compensation and rights and all that, I have one solution, on iOS hold down the uber/lyft app and when it starts shaking, click on the x on the icon. Done, they won’t bother you anymore and you have all the great rights you want. It’s comical, people just ignore that these drivers demanding rights chose to be part of this system, they can leave anytime they want if they find the workplace too hostile for their tolerance level.
    2. I am still failing to see why a background check or finger print is REQUIRED by law? Why only finger print? Why not a comprehensive psychiatric evaluation? Is my safety not important enough? Exactly! This is just more security theater and a way for governments to meddle in commerce.

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