Are we getting back together?
Uber and Lyft might return to our city, and our hearts, soon.
Two new State Senate bills could pave the way for Uber and Lyft to return to Austin, but more action, as well as public input, is needed to really make it happen.
When Lyft and Uber broke up with us, it was sudden and upsetting. It was not a gradual we-all-knew-this-was-coming break up, it was the all-your-stuff-is-on-the-porch-and-I’ve-changed-my-phone-number kind of break up.
We’d had fights, sure. There were very public arguments. But Austin just didn’t feel the same without the friendly faces of ride sharing. Now, new policy proposals might suggest a path to reconciliation.
Where did it all go wrong?
As most Austin residents will recall, in May of this year the City Council passed an ordinance requiring ride share companies, like Uber and Lyft, to obtain fingerprint-based background checks for every potential driver. This was the first line in the sand, and led to activist groups petitioning, successfully, for public vote on an addendum to the Proposition 1.
The addendum stated that, while background checks would need to be implemented, the companies could use their own, already-in-place third-party methods to do it. The companies said these checks were enough to ensure the safety of both drivers and passengers.
But the city voted against the addendum, 56 to 42, and a lot of people have different ideas as to why. Some voters were upset that Uber and Lyft launched expensive ad campaigns asking people to support them in the polls instead of using those budgets to comply with the city. In any case, what happened next left a lot of heads spinning.
Don’t go breaking my heart
Uber and Lyft tore out of the city overnight, a move they had pulled before. Along with all of our broken hearts, this move left about 10,000 drivers out of work. The DUI rate, which had dropped by 12 percent when the companies moved in, jumped back up 7.5 percent in the first few weeks after the Uberpocalypse.
Other rideshare companies (like non-profit Ride Austin), and loosely organized groups, have tried to fill the void with varying success. Uber indicated they had been doing some thinking and maybe they still wanted to be friends. But not much changed as we all adjusted to life without easy accessible ride sharing at our fingertips
“Hey, can we talk?”
Yesterday, two new State Senate bills were filled that could change everything. Don Huggines (R-Dallas) filed Bill 113 that will “introduce sweeping changes to the municipalities and the entire ride-for-hire industry,” according to a press release.
In a related move, Charles Schwetner (R-Georgetown) proposed Bill 176, which would put ride sharing regulation at the state level instead of leaving it up to individual municipalities. According to the Senator, this would allow Uber and Lyft a more friendly regulatory environment.
The bills allow for national-level background checks and state licenses of operation, but does not require the fingerprinting outlined in Austin’s ordinances.
In other words, the regulations look a lot more like what the proposed Proposition 1 addendum said. But, for better or worse, Austin voted against that addendum. So were do we go from here?
Can’t we all just get along?
Don’t re-download your apps and dust off those pink mustaches just yet. If the state and city level regulations disagree, there might be further conflict in store. “To the extent that this language is contrary to the City’s legislative agenda, the City of Austin must oppose it,” said Marissa Monroy, public information manager for the Austin transportation department.
Online sentiment to the two proposed bills is varied. While many people are vocal about wanting the Austin ride share situation back to the golden days, almost as many urge caution and remind us that the regulations were proposed for a reason, and we should proceed with that in mind.
The best time to voice your opinion is now, while the city and state are making decisions that will effect the entire industry. The best way to voice your opinion is to get in touch with your senator (here’s how to find them) and let them know what you want to see happen.
Don’t be left holding a tub of ice cream wishing you had said what was in your heart. Communication is essential for all relationships.