Side Affects May Include… The Unforeseen Ancillary Cost to the City of Uber and Lyft’s Departures
The whole city, and for some reason, much of California, seems to be in an uproar one way or another about the city’s new ride share regulations, companies leaving town, and what that means. With the popular vote levied against Proposition 1, Uber and Lyft have taken their business elsewhere. This leaves a large population aching for the service they had grown accustomed to. One of the biggest concerns that people are speculating on are what the unforeseen costs will be, and what the lesser of many evils are with the remaining transportation options and risks. There also seems to be widespread confusion about what actually happened, and so many people have varied understandings of what they think occurred between the city of Austin and the rideshare companies. That is because the answer was much simpler and at the same time more complicated than most see.
The simple answer is that the city council responded both to the concerns of existing companies in town that were taking a hit in the pocket books from the new and progressive competition (sparking accusations from many of corruption), as well as concerns from many who said that the rideshare’s operators were not necessarily safe, citing incidences of inappropriate behavior between drivers and passengers. Also taken into account were issues of traffic impedance caused by the drivers’ loading and unloading, blocking traffic. The council passed regulations forcing the new companies in town to require background checks on drivers, requiring employees to display a company logo to identify them as drivers (Lyft already does this with the pink mustache lights their drivers display), a taxation form similar to what the other taxi services were already adhering to, and finally prohibiting drivers from passenger loading and unloading in the middle of traffic lanes.
The more complicated and controversial side of this was spurred by Uber and Lyft’s responses to this regulation. First they put together a petition with the required 20,000 signatures to offer a counter proposal to be put to city vote over the council’s decision. The proposal countered that the rideshare companies would not be required to do background checks on their drivers, but if they felt like it, they would provide private third parties of their choosing to handle the process. Also it turned over the regulation for drivers to load and unload out of traffic and need to identify the cars as company drivers while in operation. They did agree on a 1% annual revenue fee to the city. With the vote coming to the city populace, Uber and Lyft formed a PAC and aggressively began an ad campaign in the city that rather successfully painted officials in a light that alluded to corruption and cronyism, working to keep the little guys down in lieu of the established big taxi corporations. Initially the companies anticipated that the city would vote in a landslide to overturn the council’s regulations. Uber and Lyft were so embraced by the people of Austin on the consumer side, that it seemed a slam dunk. However, it was not as cut and dried as the initial outlook predicted. The population was a bit apprehensive of the aggression, and to make matters worse, the response of the ride share PAC was to become more aggressive and even threatening. They sent out mass emails to all people with an Uber or Lyft account and openly said they would walk out and leave Austin high and dry if they didn’t vote Prop 1 into action. Unfortunately for them, Texans don’t respond well to threats, and they lost the vote with 55% of votes against Prop 1.
This now begs the question, what is the fallout? The biggest concern most are looking at is the safety in transportation. One of the biggest utilization of all of these companies, both rideshare and taxis alike is associated with entertainment. Austin is a very active city, especially at night and on the weekends with a myriad of music festivals, entertainment districts, and sporting events. One thing all of these have in common is the propensity for alcohol to play a key part in the revelry: Austin drinks, a lot. The advent of rideshare programs brought unprecedented availability and use of safe rides by third parties. Previously, the main options for alternate transportation while out drinking were taking a bus which has certain limitations and stigma that many more affluent parties tend to avoid, or taking a taxi. Taxis were a commonly used option, but rather expensive if ordered, and unpredictable. Before a better product arrived on the scene, however, the taxi experience was an understood side cost of playing like adults. The post taxi conversation at your destination or with friends the next day about the alarming cost of the ride home, the wait for the ride to arrive, or having to wrestle a found open cab from some other prospective passenger downtown at closing time was as commonplace as the acknowledgement of Texas summer being hot. Enter Uber and soon after Lyft. At first, nobody really knew what to think, but they figured it out quickly. Suddenly, having a driver take you where you wanted to go, and later bringing you back home safely was cheaper than a single taxi ride. Furthermore, it was disturbingly easy, you just pushed a button on your phone, and a car showed up where you were… quickly!
Rideshare stormed the market and the cab companies took a big hit. It changed the way Austinites and tourists alike enjoyed the nightlife. There were some interesting side effects with the embrace of rideshares. Bars were making a lot more money. Since people were not worried about driving home or about all those “No Refusal Weekends” the APD are so proud of, customers were open to having one or two more rounds while out. With the new lack of self-policing previously more common, bar staffs had to suddenly pay much closer attention to who was taking themselves past the point of self-control, and people were growing used to drinking more than they would have before while going out because there were fewer mitigating factors at stake. People just became used to drinking more when they went out. Rideshare was so invasive in the entertainment industry, a new common sight was emerging. All over town, people were getting out of an Uber or a Lyft in the parking spot of a local watering hole in an empty parking lot expecting the same inside, only to be shocked that the place was full of patrons who had also used rideshare to get there. Another new peculiar sight occurred right around 2am each night at these same places: the Uber train. This entailed lines of rideshare drivers picking up passengers, and those passengers fumbling between the cars to figure out which one corresponded to their credit card (sometimes humorously unsuccessful).
Now, with the sudden departure of Uber and Lyft, there are new concerns and questions posed. People have not slowed down the amped up partying they adopted with the advent of rideshare, and are scrambling to utilize less desirable options, or worse yet chancing driving intoxicated. People are angry with the companies for leaving and somehow using that as a way to justify their “need” to drive intoxicated. New rideshare companies, willing to adhere to the city’s new regulations are scrambling to grab the leftover business developed by Uber and Lyft dollars left sitting on the table. Unfortunately, they are not as polished as the big boys of rideshare were, or able to provide the services at the same prices. Customers are very dissatisfied with the new higher costs or poor execution of service and apps that are not as accurate or user friendly as Uber and Lyft. There will undoubtedly be an unprecedented spike in DWI arrests in the wake of the pullout, and far worse, many more accidents due to poor judgement and selfish decisions fueled by liquid confidence. In a town that already holds one of the highest DWI rates in the country, many are speculating that the city was slighted against the service that was putting a significant dent in the strong revenue source those DWI arrests generate. Echoing the sentiments of many in response to the whole debacle, Corey Baum, lead singer of popular local band, Croy and the Boys, simply said “I bet the city of Austin needed more DWI money”.