Uber, Lyft to Cease Operations in Austin on Monday, May 9
May 8, 2016 – It has been a dramatic, rollercoaster of a ride over the past three months in Austin. During that period, Transportation Network Companies (TNC) Uber and Lyft spent almost $9 million in their attempt to overturn the Austin City Council’s decision in late December to enforce a fingerprint requirement for all TNC drivers. Saturday’s vote confirmed that the fingerprint requirement will go into effect immediately, although full compliance will not be required until February of 2017.
Uber and Lyft say they will cease operations in Austin no later than 8:00 am on Monday, May 9th, rather than comply with the fingerprint requirement. Both Uber and Lyft say their own third party background checks are much broader than the fingerprint-based background checks specified by the ordinance.
Interestingly, a look at the polling map provided by Travis County showed that Central Austin, an area that is well served by existing taxi service, voted against Uber and Lyft, while the areas outside Austin’s core were more likely to vote for retaining the services of Uber and Lyft, despite the lack of fingerprinting drivers. No surprises here or there, since arguments for and against Uber and Lyft often hinged on where you lived.
In the end, the battle over the fingerprint requirement had largely lost its original concern of passenger safety, and had instead become a battle of giant corporations (Uber and Lyft) vs the Old Guard of Austin and most of the newly installed city council.
Lost in the noise of battle were the 10,000 or more part-time jobs that the arrival of Uber and Lyft had brought with them. Exactly where those drivers – and jobs – will go remains to be seen if Uber and Lyft leave on Monday. And those lost jobs are only part of the story; there’s also the very real loss of urban and suburban mobility for both Austin residents and its many visitors.
Some believe that it’s quite simple to duplicate the services of Uber and Lyft, but what the two services provide is quite unique. Essentially, you get a software-based platform recognized around the world and the ability to get a ride without carrying cash or even a credit card. All you need is your cell phone and the Uber or Lyft App.
Contrast this with my most recent experience in a taxi, where the driver got lost, the taxi was passable but certainly no consumer-friendly passenger car, and to use my credit card required that the driver pull out a credit card machine, the likes of which I haven’t seen in years. And then, of course, are the grueling hours a taxi driver has to drive in order to pay the rent on his taxi. In many cases, taxi drivers are putting in 80+ hours per week to achieve a semi-sustainable living.
This past week, Lyft and GM announced (very tentative) plans to put the first 100 autonomous taxis into operation in a city yet to be determined. One thing we can almost be certain of…that city won’t be Austin. While Uber has worked out agreements with Houston and New York City, Lyft has left every city that requires fingerprint background checks.
TNCs require huge pool of potential drivers because their drivers, in most cases, typically work only a few hours per week to supplement their full-time jobs. Will Austin and its visitors notice the absence of Uber and Lyft? We will probably find out soon enough.