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Will these bills bring ridesharing giants Uber and Lyft back to Austin?

(AUSTIN BUSINESS NEWS) Two new State Senate bills could pave the way for ridesharing to return to Austin, but more action, as well as public input, is needed to really make it happen.

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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.

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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.

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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.

#AustinRidesharing

Felix is a writer, online-dating consultant, professor, and BBQ enthusiast. She lives in Austin with two warrior-princess-ninja-superheros and some other wild animals. You can read more of her musings, emo poetry, and weird fiction on her website.

Business News

Working from home could be permanent for many after COVID

(BUSINESS NEWS) Lockdown has millions of workers doing their jobs from home, and many will never go back to the office again. So how do you settle in for the long run?

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Facebook announced in May that they estimate to have about half of their staff working from home indefinitely, even after the pandemic ends. Twitter also made headlines around the same time with similar statements.

When staff work remotely, companies save on major expenses like rent, heating, and electricity. Nationwide (yes, the insurance provider!) recently closed five regional offices, simply because they no longer needed them, thanks to remote working. Talk about cost cutting!

It does beg us to ask: Why do we spend so much money on gas and so many hours in traffic to do things at the office that we can easily accomplish at home?

If you’re reading this right now, you probably have all the tools you need in order to do (at least part of) your job from anywhere: An internet connection and one or two devices, like a cell phone and a computer. That’s all you need in order to collaborate with people all around the globe. It’s honestly kind of surprising that mainstream work culture hasn’t caught up to this technology sooner, considering it’s been widely available for roughly a generation. And the stay-at-home orders have all but dispelled the myth that working from home makes employees less productive.

If these big businesses are eager to make the transition, it will set the tone moving forward for other industries. Undoubtedly, tech companies stand to seriously benefit from a broad shift to remote work, considering they provide the tools that make it possible.

However, there are considerable barriers to overcome before telecommuting can fully go mainstream. For one, it’s still hard to set boundaries between work & play from home, especially when you lack a dedicated office space. If you spend any substantial amount of time at work mindlessly scrolling through Facebook or watching cat videos on Youtube, then that habit is likely to follow you into the remote workplace (and don’t think I’m just throwing shade here, I’m guilty as charged).

There are also financial limitations that can prevent one from efficiently working from home. For example, if I normally use an office computer for my job, but don’t own a computer personally, who would be responsible for ensuring that I get a computer to effectively do my job during this crisis?

Regardless, whenever things go ‘back to normal’, wouldn’t it be great if working from home became a widely accepted option? Job opportunities would be more accessible to skilled candidates from areas outside of cities and tech hubs, those with chronic illness and disabilities that limit them to their houses, and parents with young children who need supervision and care.

If done equitably, we may end up seeing the new shift to remote work have a powerful, progressive influence on the way that we all get things done.

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Business News

Plastic bags are making a comeback, thanks to COVID-19

(BUSINESS NEWS) Plastic bags are back, whether you like it or not – at least for now.

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Single use plastic bags are rising like a phoenix from the ashes of illegality all over the country, from California to New York. Reusable bags are falling out of favor in an effort to curtail the spread of COVID-19. It’s a logical step: the less something is handled, generally, the safer it is going to be. And porous paper bags are thought to have a higher potential to spread the virus through contact.

It’s worth mentioning that single use plastic bags are considerably more
environmentally efficient to manufacture compared to paper, cloth, and reusable plastic bags. Per unit, they require very little material to make and are easily mass produced. It also goes without saying that they have a very short lifespan, after which they end up sitting in landfills, littering streets, or drifting through oceans.

In the grand scheme of things, it’s hard to deny that single use plastics have the potential to be as dangerous to humans as COVID-19. Coronavirus is a very immediate existential threat to us in the United States, but the scale of the global crises that stem from the irresponsible consumption of cheap disposable goods, also cannot be overstated. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch isn’t going anywhere. (And did you know that it’s just one of many huge garbage patches around the world?)

So… what exactly are we going to do about the comeback of plastic bags? Because to be honest, I used to work in grocery retail, and it is difficult and often unrewarding. So, I wouldn’t exactly love handling potentially contaminated tote bags all day in the midst of a pandemic if I were still a supermarket employee. You couldn’t pay me enough to feel comfortable with that – forget minimum wage!

I used to have a plastic bag stuffed full of other plastic bags sitting in my kitchen, like American nesting dolls, before disposable plastics fell from grace. (I’m sure some of y’all know exactly what I’m talking about.) This bag of bags was never a point of pride. It got really annoying because it just kept growing. There are only so many practical home uses for the standard throw-away plastic shopping bag. Very small trash can liners; holding snarls of unused cables, another thing I accumulate for no reason; extremely low-budget packing material; one could get crafty and somehow weave them into a horrible sweater, I guess.

I don’t miss my bag of bags. I don’t want to have to deal with another. Hey, Silicon Valley? Got any disruptive ideas for this one?

Even if we concede that disposable plastics are a necessary evil in the fight against COVID-19, the fact remains that they stick around long after you’re done with them. That’s true whether you throw them out or not.

I’m not trying to direct blame anywhere. Of course businesses should do their best to keep their customers and staff safe, and if that means using plastic bags, so be it. Without clear guidance from our federal government, every part of society has been fumbling and figuring out how to keep one another healthy with the tools they’ve got at hand. (…Well, almost every part.)

The changes to the state bag bans have been cautious and temporary so far, which is a small relief. But nobody really knows how much longer the pandemic will rage on and necessitate the relaxations.

I won’t pretend that I have a sure solution. All I can really ask is that we all be extra mindful of our usage of these disposable plastic products. Let’s think creatively about what we might otherwise throw away. We must not trade one apocalypse for another.

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Business News

Scammers are taking advantage of the unemployed

(BUSINESS NEWS) In a country that’s been stricken by higher-than-ever levels of unemployment, scammers have found a unique way to target this vulnerable demographic.

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With unemployment rates reaching unprecedented levels in recent months, it’s a fairly safe bet to say that there’s something that many of us currently have in common: we need a job. While these levels are slowly starting to decline, already down to 11.1 percent in June from an all-time high of 14.7 percent in April, the need for steady gainful employment is still great for many Americans. That’s what makes the newest scam making its rounds particularly vile.

There’s a common misconception that people who get scammed largely deserved their misfortune. Whether it’s presumed that they got greedy, they fell for something that was too good to be true, or they were looking for an easy way out, it’s both unfair and unkind to make these snap judgements of victims of scammers. When it comes to scammers, there’s only one party to blame for these wrongful actions — the scammers themselves.

And with literally millions of people looking for a job right now, these scammers have found a new round of susceptible people to target. It’s a fairly well documented fact that scammers have a knack for knowing who will be easy prey, and this latest scam is no different. According to a report from the Better Business Bureau (BBB), scammers have ramped up their efforts to separate desperate job seekers from what’s left of their meager funds.

This scam is nothing new, but it has surged in popularity with the sheer number of people looking for jobs in today’s economy. Dubbed the “employment scam,” it can take on many forms, but the end result remains the same. At the end of the day, if a person is bilked out of their money, then the scammer has won.

What does this scam look like, and how can you safeguard yourself from falling prey to it? Please note that anyone — from all walks of life, no matter your age, your sex, your race, or any other factor — can become a victim of a scam. The only way to protect yourself is to be aware of the scam and recognize the signs of it. If a potential employer asks any of the following of you, then there’s a good chance they’re a scammer:

  • You are required to pay the so-called employer for your own training up front.
  • You are expected to give up your banking/personal info for a credit check.
  • You are overpaid by a fraudulent check and told to wire back the difference.
  • You are told that you need to pay for expensive equipment to work from home.

Please note that these scammers can spoof legitimate companies. They may try to pass themselves off as real-deal businesses; they’ve even tried to emulate the BBB itself. And when you refuse to follow through with their demands, they will double down and might even become hostile and aggressive, resorting to threats and cajoling. It’s important to not cave in; once they start bullying you, they know the gig is up.

The BBB also notes that coronavirus has created a “perfect storm” for scammers, but there are a few things you can do to protect yourself. They advise that you avoid social isolation, as that can make you more vulnerable to scammers. When in doubt, seek out a friend’s feedback. Sometimes a reality check can make all the difference in whether or not you become a mark. Do a little bit of digging online before you accept an “offer” or share personal information. And finally, be prudent. No matter how many warnings the BBB puts out each year about scams, the only person who can really protect you from getting scammed is just one person…yourself.

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