Austin should stand strongly on its regulations for ride-hailing apps

Josephine MacLean

Austin is a haven for new tech and innovation but doesn’t need to be one for companies that work to deceive their customers and employees. Ride-hailing companies that portray themselves as victims of the City’s regulations are feigning innocence, and Austinites should call their bluff.

In December, the Austin City Council passed a city ordinance on “transportation network companies.” The ordinance originally incentivized fingerprint-based background checks and sent 1 percent of local revenue to the City.

Although the ordinance would have been phased in this February, “Ridesharing Works for Austin” collected 65,103 signatures on a petition, prompting the City Council to change their plans and put the ordinance up for a vote.

This may seem like a grass-roots movement but is more like paying to lay fake turf. It turns out that “Ridesharing Works for Austin” is actually a political action committee funded primarily by Uber and Lyft, the main ride-hailing companies in Austin.

The two companies not only financed their campaign but also overexaggerated the potential results of the City ordinance. They convinced many Austinites and their own drivers that mandatory fingerprint checks would force them to leave Austin completely. When San Antonio imposed similar regulations in March 2015, the companies did indeed leave. But, they came back that June with voluntary fingerprint checks and all.

Under its current system, Uber distances itself from its “contractors.” As Uber has grown, their drivers have become less powerful — the company is now taking a higher share of fares and is charging more fees from the driver.

Some Austin ride-hailing drivers have become disillusioned with the companies. Many of the companies’ drivers spent January pushing the petition while their passengers were a captive audience. Some revolted against the company’s underhanded tactics. During SXSW a large group of drivers boycotted, refusing to drive on Tuesday. In fact, they’ve been boycotting every Tuesday for the past month or so.

While there are many benefits to ride-hailing apps, there aren’t enough to outweigh the cost of companies that have shown themselves to use underhanded tactics and disregard public safety. On May 7, vote no on the “Ridesharing Works for Austin” ordinance.

Maclean is an advertising freshman from Austin. Follow her on Twitter @maclean_josie.