Protesters gathered in front of Austin City Hall to demand return of ride-hailing companies

Anusha Lalani

Ride-hailing companies Uber and Lyft have officially left Austin, but their riders and drivers are not ready to give up so easily. At a protest held Thursday in front of City Hall, a small group of Austin residents voiced their opinions on the departure of the two ride-hailing companies. 

In May, Proposition 1 — a referendum proposed by Uber and Lyft to remove the ordinance requiring drivers to undergo fingerprint background checks — failed. The protest’s turnout was low compared to the 2,000 people who said they were “Going” on the Facebook event invite page. 

Samantha Anne, organizer of the protest and whose boyfriend was an Uber driver, said she organized the protest to show city council members how the removal of Uber and Lyft impacted Austinites and to raise
community awareness.

“We were very upset that Proposition 1 failed and immediately over 10,000 people lost their jobs,” Anne said. “It just really hurt my heart. I’m a local and I’ve lived here for quite a long time and I couldn’t believe this was happening to our community.” 

However, Anne said she believes the taxicab industry, which is a part of the city’s transit system, influenced city council’s decision to implement the fingerprinting requirement. As Austin residents began using ride-hailing
companies, taxicabs were not being used as often as before, causing City Council to lose money. 

“I think [City Council] was very upset that they were losing out on money and they just started talking about fingerprinting and that was a good way to try to get them out of here,” Anne said.  

Jay Jayasuriya, a driver for Lyft who attended the protest, said the reasoning behind fingerprinting didn’t make sense and the new requirement would have been time consuming and inconvenient for ride-hailing companies. 

“I felt like they were using the fingerprinting as a reason to cover up something else that wasn’t relevant,” Jayasuriya said. “It wasn’t about safety. It’s not going to stop a felony or crime from happening. And that’s a big hassle for these drivers to go through. From what [Lyft] found out, it takes a long time for the [fingerprinting] to go through. It’s timely and costly.”

The failure of Proposition 1 caused two former Lyft and Uber drivers to file two class-action lawsuits against the ride-hailing companies. The former drivers claim the companies owe them up to 60 days of back pay and other benefits, which are provided to them under a federal labor law.

Finance junior Zahra Jaffer, who attended the protest and was a frequent user of the ride-hailing services, said she understood why City Council imposed the new requirement but she wishes the companies would return
to Austin. 

“I agree that there should be fingerprinting done because it’s a safety concern,” Jaffer said. “Before the vote was about to happen, I saw a lot of signs on campus that were for the fingerprinting because of the rapes and other crimes that have happened in the ride-sharing cars. The companies should just listen to City Council, do the fingerprinting and come back to Austin.”