#KeepAustinUber: Will the company’s pushback against new city regulations work?
Nearly a year after the City of Austin initially approved ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft, new city regulations threaten their future operation.
To be clear, Austin City Council isn’t looking to outright ban Uber. But the company has made it clear that the proposed changes – up for vote on Nov. 16 – could drive Uber out.
Designed to treat the popular app services more like traditional cab companies, the most controversial part of the proposed legislation is a $1 fee per ride to pay for fingerprint background checks to replace Uber’s current name background checks.
Uber just sent out an email inviting driver partners to march over to City Hall on Monday morning, incentivizing people to skip parking by taking a discounted Uber (the fare will be waived up to $20).
Uber’s very public reaction
The company has been vocal in its disapproval, directly calling out Council Member Ann Kitchens in a TV and radio ad campaign that has Austinites expressing their support of the company:
Why the finger pointing? Kitchens is the chair of the Mobility Committee who opened up the debate this fall.
And if you’ve noticed horse-drawn carriages strolling the streets of downtown Austin lately, they’re not around for the holiday season. In another recent PR stunt, Uber has been offering $50 horse and buggy rides on Thursday evenings to symbolize how the proposed regulations would impact its operation.
Coined the “KITCHEN” option on the app, Uber Texas spokesperson Debbee Hancock explained the reasoning behind the service: “Uber has improved mobility for half a million people in Austin, but Council Member Kitchen’s proposal would take Austin backwards and eliminate this reliable transportation option.”
What’s happened in other cities?
Fingerprint regulations aren’t a new challenge for the brand. They’ve popped up in different markets, including Houston and San Antonio in Texas and Broward County in Florida.
But the track record shows that Houston is the only city that Uber has remained in that has imposed the change.
While it’s been entertaining to watch the drama between Uber and the City Council unfold, the question is whether the heavy public pressure will have any effect on helping Uber get its way in Austin.