Ride-hailing works for students, Austinites

Steven Hester

Your designated driver is already three Fireball shots into the night, and you are left wondering how to get home safely. Texas Exes and graduating students probably remember the limited options before ride-hailing. You could wait for an overcrowded E-Bus, endure the 45-minute trek from Dirty Sixth to campus, or take your chances with the unacceptable — trusting a drunk driver behind the wheel. Uber and Lyft changed all that.

Today, you can summon a car within minutes to take your crew home safely. You can trust the driver because they have already undergone a comprehensive background check. Before getting in the driver’s car, you see their name, photo, license plate number and rating by other passengers. At the end of your GPS-tracked ride, you pay through the secure online app without handling cash or cards.

Taxi companies hate this. A 21st-century technology is hurting their bottom line, and they are getting desperate. That is why they asked the Austin City Council to impose unnecessary and misleading regulations on ride-hailing companies. Our City Council — well-intentioned but misguided — complied.

The regulation in contention is whether fingerprint-based background checks should replace the current Social Security-based background check process. The answer is clearly no. There is no empirical evidence that they will reduce crime, and the information searched is not always reliable.

To complicate the conversation, fingerprinting is highly discriminatory. The background checks taxi companies are pushing only look at arrests, not final convictions. This means over-policed communities — Austinites of color — would be disproportionately held back from signing on as drivers. Considering our City Council just championed the first Fair Chance Hiring Ordinance in the South, this is hypocritical, if not outright offensive.

Why is this even on the table? Because taxi companies know that they are costly and timely impediments to the ride-hailing model we rely on.

That is why over 65,000 Austinites signed a petition to have this election on May 7. It is our opportunity to overturn poor policies driven by even poorer politics.

Nobody in this election is arguing to scrap regulations entirely. We need reasonable and strong ordinances on the books to keep both consumers and drivers safe. Ride-hailing companies agree. If Uber and Lyft had the reputation of being unsafe, then you would not be giving them your business.

The ordinances pushed by the taxi companies are not designed to make you safer. They are designed to push ride-hailing out of Austin.

Our quality of life as students is on the ballot on May 7. Let’s vote for Proposition 1 and keep safe ride-hailing in Austin.

Hester is a mathematics sophomore. He is the president of Students for Ridesharing.