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Opinion Editorials

Austin’s newest ridesharing option is less innovation, more reinventing the wheel

(AUSTIN BUSINESS NEWS) Ridesharing options have been popping up in Austin – will anything stick, or are we biding time until the big dogs come back?

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chariot ridesharing

Previously on Days of Our (Austin) Lives

Earlier this year, an addendum to Prop 1 failed to pass, causing our favorite ride-sharing companies Uber and Lyft to abruptly leave Austin. The city was transformed overnight, and as I began to notice the influx of yellow cabs, anger stirred inside of me.

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In May of this year, Austin City Council passed an ordinance mandating that all ride-sharing companies provide valid background checks and finger-printing for their drivers. Foreseeing an undoubted increase in cost to comply with these measures, Uber and Lyft threatened to end their ride sharing services. So the city tried a compromise.

Innovation against regulation

A proposed addendum to Prop 1 still mandated these background checks, but authorized companies to use third-party methods. However, with the opposition citing the importance of ensuring the safety of the public and drivers, the addendum did not pass, and the ride-sharing companies disappeared.

The results of that fateful outcome have still caused some debate, especially between tech industries and politics. Where tech industries believe such regulations stifle innovation, the local government feels that these companies need regulations to ensure public safety.

With Uber and Lyft no longer a part of Austin, ridesharing options began popping up everywhere you looked.

There were shady options in the form of hand-written posters plastered on posts up and down Rainey Street. There were super expensive options in the form of every single cab company appearing and rejoicing over their comeback. And then, of course there were options that had been there all along in the form of public transportation. Everything seemed too creepy or too unreliable. However, a new form of transportation, called Chariot, feels it can be just right.

Your “Chariot” awaits

Chariot launched during ACL this year, offering free rides to festival-goers along specific routes. In a nutshell, Chariot is a shuttle bus service. They have an app (of course) to track the service and specific routes where you can hop on and off. This spiffed up shuttle van can fit fourteen passengers, and a ride will typically run you $4-5. As of December, Chariot has two fixed routes along Lamar and Riverside to downtown.

If you’re thinking that this concept sounds strikingly familiar, you’re not wrong.

It’s a city bus, guys.

But it’s a small bus with clever route names like “Lamar Bullet” and “Riverside Rover.” After all, using your phone to “hail a chariot” seems more hip than walking to the street corner to “catch the bus.”

I lived without a car for five years, so I am no stranger to taking the bus. Yes, it can be unreliable. Yes, it can be crowded. Yes, there was one time where a woman brought her pet hermit crabs to sit between me and her. Buses get a bad rap because of all these reasons, and to be honest, our public transportation system needs a lot of improvement. But at the end of the day, buses are a safe and cheap alternative to driving. They get you where you want to go for only $1.25 per ride.

Other transpo options

Chariot has many similar qualities and potential pitfalls of buses. Who’s to say that they will deny a hermit-crab toting rider? While this shuttle bus offers the potential for a more comfortable and faster ride, you can pay nearly four times as much and not make it quite as far. As of now, Chariot only offers two routes. So if you are a downtown commuter with a disdain for city buses, it could be the perfect alternative. However, there are so many more options!

I can ride my bike from their farthest stop in Riverside to downtown in fifteen minutes. I avoid traffic, get exercise, and can park for free! There is also the Metro line, carpooling, city buses, and other ride sharing alternatives like the non-profit Ride Austin.

Instead of slapping a fancy name on the side of a van, we should focus on making changes to our public transportation system. It is too easy to just pay the extra $5 to get you from point A to point B. As more of these ride-sharing options appear, I feel that we are a city still left with unanswered questions.

Is this an example of technology and local government working together? Or is this just another way to take advantage of people without the full scope of all of their options?

#Ridesharing

Natalie is a Staff Writer at The American Genius and co-founded an Austin creative magazine called Almost Real Things. When she is not writing, she spends her time making art, teaching painting classes and confusing people. In addition to pursuing a writing career, Natalie plans on getting her MFA to become a Professor of Fine Art.

Opinion Editorials

How strong leaders use times of crises to improve their company’s future

(EDITORIAL) We’re months into the COVID-19 crisis, and some leaders are still fumbling through it, while others are quietly safeguarding their company’s future.

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Anthony J. Algmin is the Founder and CEO of Algmin Data Leadership, a company helping business and technology leaders transform their future with data, and author of a new book on data leadership. We asked for his insights on how a strong leader can see their teams, their companies, their people through this global pandemic (and other crises in the future). The following are his own words:

Managers sometimes forget that the people we lead have lives outside of the office. This is true always, but is amplified when a crisis like COVID-19 occurs. We need to remember that our job is to serve our teams, to help them be as aligned and productive as possible in the short and long terms.

Crises are exactly when we need to think about what they might be going through, and realize that the partnership we have with our employees is more than a transaction. If we’ve ever asked our people to make sacrifices, like working over a weekend without extra pay, we should be thinking first about how we can support them through the tough times. When we do right by people when they really need it, they will run through walls again for our organizations when things return to normal.

Let them know it’s okay to breathe and talk about it. In a situation like COVID-19 where everything is disrupted and people are now adjusting to things like working from home, it is naturally going to be difficult and frustrating.

The best advice is to encourage people to turn off the TV and stop frequently checking the news websites. As fast as news is happening, it will not make a difference in what we can control ourselves. Right now most of us know what our day will look like, and nothing that comes out in the news is going to materially change it. If we avoid the noisy inputs, we’ll be much better able to focus and get our brains to stop spinning on things we can’t control.

And this may be the only time I would advocate for more meetings. If you don’t have at least a daily standup with your team, you should. And encourage everyone to have a video-enabled setup if at all possible. We may not be able to be in the same room, but the sense of engagement with video is much greater than audio-only calls.

We also risk spiraling if we think too much about how our companies are struggling, or if our teams cannot achieve what our organizations need to be successful. It’s like the difference in sports between practice and the big game. Normal times are when we game plan, we strategize, and work on our fundamentals. Crises are the time to focus and leave it all on the field.

That said, do not fail to observe and note what works well and where you struggle. If you had problems with data quality or inefficient processes before the crisis, you are not fixing them now. Pull out the duct tape and find a way through it. But later, when the crisis subsides, learn from the experience and get better for next time.

Find a hobby. Anything you can do to clear your head and separate work from the other considerations in your life. We may feel like the weight of the world is on our shoulders, and without a pressure release we will not be able to sustain this level of stress and remain as productive as our teams, businesses, and families need us.

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Opinion Editorials

Declutter your quarantine workspace (and brain)

(EDITORIAL) Can’t focus? Decluttering your workspace can help you increase productivity, save money, and reduce stress.

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It’s safe to say that we’ve all been spending a lot more time in our homes these last few months. This leads us to fixate on the things we didn’t have time for before – like a loose doorknob or an un-alphabetized bookshelf.

The same goes for our workspaces. Many of us have had to designate a spot at home to use for work purposes. For those of you who still need to remain on-site, you’ve likely been too busy to focus on your surroundings.

Cleaning and organizing your workspace every so often is important, regardless of the state of the world, and with so much out of our control right now, this is one of the few things we can control.

Whether you’re working from a home office or an on-site office, take some time for quarantine decluttering. According to The Washington Post, decluttering can increase your productivity, lower stress, and save money (I don’t know about you, but just reading those three things makes me feel better already).

Clutter can cause us to feel overwhelmed and make us feel a bit frazzled. Having an office space filled with piles of paper containing irrelevant memos from five years ago or 50 different types of pens, has got to go – recycle that mess and reduce your stress. The same goes with clearing files from your computer; everything will run faster.

Speaking of running faster, decluttering and creating a cleaner workspace will also help you be more efficient and productive. Build this habit by starting small: try tidying up a bit at the end of every workday, setting yourself up for a ready-to-roll morning.

Cleaning also helps you take stock of stuff that you have so that you don’t end up buying more of it. Create a designated spot for your tools and supplies so that they’re more visible – this way, you’ll always know what you have and what needs to be replenished. This will help you stop buying more of the same product that you already have and save you money.

So, if you’ve been looking to improve your focus and clearing a little bit of that ‘quarantine brain’, start by getting your workspace in order. You’ll be amazed at how good it feels to declutter and be “out with the old”; you may even be inspired to do the same for your whole house. Regardless, doing this consistently will create a positive shift in your life, increasing productivity, reducing stress, and saving you money.

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Opinion Editorials

How to ask your manager for better work equipment

(EDITORIAL) Old computer slowing you down? Does it make a simple job harder? Here’s how to make a case to your manager for new equipment to improve your productivity.

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better equipment, better work

What is an employee to do when the work equipment bites.

Let’s be frank, working on old, crappy computers with inefficient applications can make the easiest tasks a chore. Yet, what do you do? You know you need better equipment to do your job efficiently, but how to ask the boss without looking like a whiner who wants to blow the department budget.

In her “Ask A Manager” column, Alison Green says an employee should ask for better equipment if it is needed. For example, the employee in her column has to attend meetings, but has no laptop and has to take a ton of notes and then transcribe them. Green says, it’s important to make the case for the benefits of having newer or updated equipment.

The key is showing a ROI. If you know a specific computer would be a decent upgrade, give your supervisor the specific model and cost, along with the expected outcomes.

In addition, it may be worth talking to someone from the IT department to see what options might be available – if you’re in a larger company.

IT professionals who commented on Green’s column made a few suggestions. Often because organizations have contracts with specific computer companies or suppliers, talking with IT about what is needed to get the job done and what options are available might make it easier to ask a manager, by saying, “I need a new computer and IT says there are a few options. Here are my three preferences.” A boss is more likely to be receptive and discuss options.

If the budget doesn’t allow for brand new equipment, there might be the option to upgrade the RAM, for example. In a “Workplace” discussion on StackExchange.com an employee explained the boss thinks if you keep a computer clean – no added applications – and maintained it will perform for years. Respondents said, it’s important to make clear the cost-benefit of purchasing updated equipment. Completing a ROI analysis to show how much more efficiently with the work be done may also be useful. Also, explaining to a boss how much might be saved in repair costs could also help an employee get the point across.

Managers may want to take note because, according to results of a Gallup survey, when employees are asked to meet a goal but not given the necessary equipment, credibility is lost.

Gallup says that workgroups that have the most effectively managed materials and equipment tend to have better customer engagement, higher productivity, better safety records and employees that are less likely to jump ship than their peers.

And, no surprise, if a boss presents equipment and says: “Here’s what you get. Deal with it,” employees are less likely to be engaged and pleased than those employees who have a supervisor who provides some improvements and goes to bat to get better equipment when needed.

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