On Monday, my Facebook feed was filled with UT students celebrating Uber’s return to Austin. I was disappointed to see thousands of students praise a company with an abysmal labor record that’s shown little care for the safety of its riders. While their return will undoubtedly make transportation more convenient for students, the praise likely comes as a result of people who are unaware of Uber’s highly concerning track record. Students should utilize more ethical options.
The fight originated over a series of Austin City Council regulations designed to combat sexual assaults. In 2015, at least 27 sexual assaults by ride-hailing drivers were reported to the Austin Police Department. The city addressed this in part by mandating city-run background checks, backed by fingerprint scans for all drivers. Uber was highly opposed to this plan, calling it an unnecessary restriction that would make life more difficult for their drivers.
Uber originally left Austin following a hard loss for the Proposition 1 ordinance that came up for a public vote a year and a half ago. Fierce lobbying by the Transportation Network Company (TNC) got enough public signatures to put the City Council’s regulations up to a vote. Over the course of the campaign, Uber singlehandedly spent more than $2.5 million, outspending opposition efforts 50-1. Ridesharing companies’ efforts eventually resulted in Gov. Greg Abbott signing House Bill 100, a bill that establishes a far more relaxed series of statewide regulations for the TNCs.
The only compelling argument generated by the ride-hailing companies was the possibility for a rise in drunk driving if they were to leave Austin. Instead, young people downloaded the Uber replacements — RideAustin, Fasten and Fare, learned how to navigate Austin’s public transportation or — god forbid — figured out how to hail a cab.
Simply put, the other ride-hailing companies are taking more precautions. By continuing to comply with Austin’s regulations, RideAustin and the like have shown themselves committed to user safety — each driver goes through a city-run fingerprint scan and background check.
Uber has also shown a distinct lack of regard for rider privacy and willingness to break laws. In 2014, an attempted sting operation by Portland officials to investigate reports of Uber offering rides in the city when it was against code for TNCs to operate there failed because Uber intentionally collected data from third-party sources and used it to block ride requests from the officials.
These concerns come on top of allegations of Uber’s worker mistreatment and unethical practices. The tech giant has recently had to pay off a combined $100 million in California and Massachusetts for what one of the suits calls “an active, extensive, methodical scheme … to defraud drivers.” Uber has also come under fire for continuing to classify their workers as contractors in an effort to refuse them benefits. In another egregious offense, Uber drivers broke a taxi boycott by offering rides at John F. Kennedy International Airport while thousands of protesters lined up to protest President Donald Trump’s travel ban this past January.
Any one of these incidents on its own would be evidence of a corporation with ambiguous morals, but taken together, they are indicative of a complete disregard for consumer safety and labor rights. So download the Ride Austin app. Check out a Capital Metro schedule. Hell, invest in a new pair of walking shoes. Just please don’t give Uber your business.
Price is a government sophomore from Austin.