The results of Austin’s vote on Proposition 1 are in – and it’s not looking good for rideshare services Uber and Lyft. 56 percent of the population voted against Prop 1 and 44 percent voted for the proposition. In response to the decision, Uber says they will no longer operate in Austin starting at 8 a.m. Monday morning (May 9th). Lyft is opting to “pause operations” on Monday as well.
Prop. 1 was a ride-hailing ordinance that would prohibit required fingerprinting of drivers, and repeal the already instated requirement to identify vehicles with a distinctive emblem as well as repeal the prohibition against loading and unloading passengers in a travel lane. This would replace the current ordinance (passed in December) that requires drivers for ride-hailing companies to submit to fingerprinting background checks.
The issue was actually confusing for many people who may not have realized a vote against Prop 1 was a vote against Uber and Lyft. We all want to ensure drivers hired by these companies are safe rides. However, rideshare companies already do a national background check for every applicant. Many people think that indirectly the decision will affect traffic, the environment, and the local economy.
Lisa Hill, a former rideshare driver, says many people in the community are going to be hurt by the decision. “I feel like something really heavy is on my heart now,” confessed Hill. “I know so many drivers in Austin, from our little group on Facebook, that rely on this full-time job to make a living.” Since the TNC’s (Transportation Network Companies) have come to town, many historically underserved minority communities have been experiencing economic benefits from people who are earning good money driving on their own schedule. Currently, an estimated 15,000 residents drive for companies Uber and Lyft.
Another issue being brought to light is how this will affect Austin’s already growing traffic problems. “There were a lot of my passengers that are from the East and West coasts who moved here not having a vehicle at all,” said Hill. “Can you imagine all of those people that would now have to get a car because they cannot rely on any kind of reliable transportation, like the established TNCs [Transportation Network Companies]? That's a whole lot more traffic than we can even imagine.”
There is also the inevitable reality that these extra vehicles on the road will have an environmental impact. Many people feel like Austin is taking three steps backward when it comes to improving our carbon footprint.
Additionally, DWI’s have dropped 23 percent in Austin since TNCs appeared on the scene in June 2014. It’s hard to imagine that this doesn’t have something to do with ride-sharing app’s convenience and affordability. However, Dr. Matthew Hersh, a statistician who lectures at the University of Texas says, “There is no relationship, no correlation between Uber and Lyft and DWI accidents or DFW arrests.” Right.
So, what’s the big deal with the fingerprinting issue? Legislators against Prop 1 site women's safety concerns in their opposition (although no Uber or Lyft drivers have been convicted of sexual assault in Austin). The TNCs argue that not only is the FBI’s fingerprinting database incomplete, but it raises privacy and security concerns in exchange for little to no safety benefit. One of the larger reasons ridesharing companies are opposed to the ordinance is the procedural hassle. Having to fingerprint every potential driver will add time and resources on to the application process (when there are already measures such as the national background checks and Lyft’s mentorship program to help the company train and vet drivers). The companies say it makes it harder for part-time drivers to get on the road, and harder for passengers to get a ride. Skylar Buffington of Austin Startups explains some of these issues in depth in his article “How Austin Killed Ridesharing.”
For now, Austin Mayor Steve Adler says, “Uber and Lyft are welcome to stay in Austin, and I invite them to the table regardless. Austin is an innovative and creative city, and we’ll need to be at our most creative and innovative now.” Let’s hope a compromise can be reached eventually so that Austin’s transportation systems aren’t left in the dark ages.