A Hack to Still Use Uber and Lyft in Austin

Say that you’ve got free $35 in ride credits or $50 in Lyft credits but you find yourself in the city of Austin but Uber and Lyft are gone because of regulations adopted by the city:

  • Fingerprint-based background checks, which the ridesharing companies say take longer, are more costly, and scare off drivers from signing up. Interestingly just the week before voting for this, the City Council voted against asking for criminal records on employment applications. And the world is safer with ridesharing than without it — Austin’s Sheriff opposes the rules because Uber and Lyft reduce DUIs in the city.

  • Geofencing which keeps certain convenient pickup and dropoff areas for taxis only especially during festivals (this cronyist piece of the rule doesn’t get nearly as much attention)

    A Taxi… Or a Police Car? in Arlington, Virginia

  • 1% of all revenue (not profit) from ridesharing to the city

There are a few alternatives to using Uber and Lyft in Austin but they don’t come close to being sufficient. Last week — on a Wednesday, no holiday — the standard airport parking lot was full because people had to drive. I may need to buy a car.

Fortunately here’s how you can still use Uber or Lyft in Austin.

    I haven’t used Uber since Jan 2015, so these instructions are for using the Lyft app. If you prefer Uber, I assume it works similarly.

    …Open the app and drag the map around until your pin 📍 is outside of Austin’s City Limits.

    …Set the pickup and request your Lyft.

    …Text or call your driver immediately and ask if they’re okay with picking you up at your actual location. (If they’re concerned that they can’t, tell them it’s all okay, you read it on the Internet.)
    If the driver isn’t able to pick you up, you can always cancel in the first 5 minutes for free. In which case, move your pin to another car icon and try it again.

    Wait patiently for your fabulous driver, it’ll take a little longer than usual.

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 InsideFlyer.com, 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. Enjoy not being covered for liability insurance during the ride as basically the driver is picking up outside of their area. If you have a driver coming outside city limits it’s gonna be a similar wait as getme especially once a lot of drivers switch over to that platform.

  2. @Gary Leff I agree its to hard to take the bus from an office in downtown Austin. It might actually cause me to burn calories and allow me to fit in J seats even better. I don’t understand why all these people in Austin are about fitness. BBQ is all that I think of when I think of Austin.

  3. Lets see where else has Fingerprint checks without the ride-sharing companies having a problem?


    Lets see how the claims that the process is unreasonable rate:


    How was the regulation put into effect? A VOTE of the populous! But we should overrule the popular vote for the corporations sake, because the background checks they have to do elsewhere in the SAME STATE may cause them some trouble?! Also, both companies did NOT get forced out of Austin, they PULLED out of Austin. They are perfectly legal, and allowed to drive, they must just comply with the law.

  4. You keep implying that Art Acevedo was in support of Prop 1. This is incorrect.


    The Austin Police Association (and basically every other organization besides the Chamber of Travis County Republicans) did oppose Prop 1.

    As a voter in this election, I suspect that Prop 1 failed, in large part, because the voters did not agree with the tactics of Uber/Lyft. I know that I did not appreciate the harassment that I endured by the Prop 1 side with multiple calls daily, text messages from out of city drivers, canvassers at my door, and a stack of mailings an inch high.

    Austinites don’t like corporations who come into our city and spend $9 million to change a law that our elected officials enacted. I know your new to town and like Uber/Lyft (I liked them too), but this is a town that went for Bernie for god’s sake! I’m very sorry you are disappointed, but Austin didn’t kick Uber/Lyft out. They left on their own.

  5. @AMJ The link you provide says, he didn’t formally endorse the ballot proposition suggesting it would be “inappropriate” for him to do so.

    Rather, the Austin Police Chief (Acevedo) asked the Council not to adopt these rules in the first place (that Prop 1 would have overturned).

    And the Travis County Sheriff strongly opposed those regulations as well.

    “Police Chief Art Acevedo, while conceding the added value of fingerprinting, repeatedly told the council ridesharing companies as they currently operate are a public safety asset.

    “Data here and around the county shows that TNCs…getting people off the street and home safely helps with our DWI problem, no argument about it,” Acevedo said.

    Acevedo also warned the council against believing that fingerprinting is an all-purpose answer to safety concerns. While he left it to the wisdom of the council, Acevedo made clear Austin could not afford to lose ridesharing services.

    Travis County Sheriff Greg Hamilton also called on the city council to reconsider “onerous regulations” that might cause companies to pull out of Austin. Hamilton said ridesharing deserved at least some of the credit for a drop in DWI arrests and alcohol-related crashes in the city and county.

    “Drunk driving in Austin is an epidemic,” Hamilton said in a statement he released earlier Thursday. “It is my strong opinion that we ensure that TNC companies remain operational in Austin, as they provide a critical service that is keeping Austin much safer that we were without them,” he said.”

  6. @Joelfreak the Austin rules weren’t just about fingerprinting. Uber and Lyft argued their business doesn’t work under rules adopted by the City. So the city is free to adopt them, and uber/lyft not to do business under them. And Austin is worse off as a result. 100% foreseeable result. Austin is far better off with ridesharing than without it, and for now at least we’re without it. (Arcade et al are not substitutes for Uber/Lyft).

  7. @beachfan – two things. first i’ve found that lyft shows up faster, perhaps they have more drivers near me when i use them, and second i like to support the underdog because i want competition in this market.

  8. @Gary Trying to say that this move is going to kill people because the background checks would inconvenience the ride-sharing companies is a straw-man. Its a silly argument, and can be made to go to its extreme as well (charging for rides makes more people not take Uber/Lyft, so we should require its free!). Its pretty simple to see that Uber packs up and goes home when it gets scolded in a market that isn’t large enough (NY, CHI or LA) for it to compromise in. Austin isn’t a large enough market for it, so it decided to just leave. Other companies WILL fill the space, as it seems they are trying to do now.

  9. The same thing was possible in San Antonio when we didn’t have uber, but here it worked a lot better because you could drop a pin in Terrell Hills, Alamo Hts, Balcones Hts etc, all of which are within a couple miles of the airport and/or downtown. Austin has no similar suburbs within or surrounded by the city.

  10. @joelfreak you can’t just wish for rides to be free. but the position of the travis county sheriff is absolutely that people will die, and that’s the basis on which testified against the rules in front of city council. Not a straw man to the sheriff. and indeed, the data suggests the availability of ridesharing reduces DUIs. So we’re safer in the world before these rules than after.

    I hope other companies decide to make things work in Austin — selfishly, and because I want to see more competition for Uber. But wishing and hoping for that doesn’t change the fact that these rules, which AREN’T primarily about safety, which ARE about protecting the economic interests of taxi owners, make Austin both less convenient AND less safe.

    You HAVE TO judge policies on their outcomes, not their intentions. There’s no other way to do public policy analysis.

  11. @AMJ and as short hand and practical matter he did, though I’m happy to acknowledge that he refused to “formally endorse” because he doesn’t think someone in his role should do that.

  12. I called for a taxi to the airport from downtown, and before it showed up a lyft driver rolled through and I was able to hail him (I called back to cancel the taxi from inside the lyft car). the absence of the app makes it hard to summon drivers, but I guess there’s nothing to prevent opportunistic drivers/customers from making side deals. obviously this solution doesn’t scale and isn’t predictable enough to rely on, but it was still cool for me; if you’re downtown it might be worth trying.

  13. Always go to arrivals at airport to try to fetch a non-sanctioned cab. Side dealing ubers/lyfts too.

  14. Not very kind of you to subject some poor driver to all sorts of legal risks. Will you be putting in your cash if their car gets impounded and they get a ticket for breaching the law?

  15. Also first time setting up app. & using it. I entered the promo code for first time user and it gave me until midnight tonight to use? I hope I am ready by then, however if it’s shortly after that will I still be able to use it? Also the promo said for $20 off first trip. When I entered it, it said $15?

    Don’t understand that when it appears to be a $35+ fare?

    Please advise.

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