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Opinion Editorials

The secret reason Austin tech wants Uber/Lyft back in town (it has nothing to do with ridesharing)

(EDITORIAL) Last week, Texas passed a bill to override the City of Austin and most people expressed enthusiasm. But the upper echelon were relieved for an unspoken reason.

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Sorry Austin, Texas wants Uber back

Anyone in Austin with a pulse and the internet has heard by now that the Texas Legislature passed a state bill overruling the Austin ordinance requiring ridesharing companies to screen drivers through the city directly. The proposed law would still require criminal background checks on drivers, but rolls back the fingerprinting requirements that drove Uber and Lyft out of town.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott is expected to sign the bill into law, after which, Uber and Lyft have stated they will immediately resume operations.

City Mayors have argued this is an example of the state attempting to override local control so corporations can profit while public safety is at risk.

Uber and Lyft spent millions to fight and then overturn the 2015 Austin fingerprinting ordinance, but a sloppy campaign left locals confused (most of whom still can’t cite the facts). Add on top of that debacle that the outlying cities surrounding Austin proper, inserted themselves and wanted their cut – if Austin gets paid $X for every driver to get fingerprinted, they too should get $X.

Since then, local non-profit Ride Austin filled the void and when this bill passed in the Texas Legislature, they announced aggressive plans to challenge the 1099 model for ridesharing drivers, potentially moving to a bold W2 plan.

The pendulum of sentiment

Local sentiment has widely been enthusiastic about the potential return of the ridesharing giants, but nowhere more than in the tech community.

And the enthusiasm isn’t because Uber and Lyft are fellow tech companies, no, this has everything to do with a quiet pulse in the upper echelon of the tech community, and it’s all about the money.

You see, two major Austin City Council moves were made in recent years that gave the city an anti-tech reputation – Proposition 1 (that ended with Uber/Lyft evacuating the city) and Ordinance No. 20160223-A.1 which placed burdensome regulations on short-term rentals (STRs) by limiting occupancy to six unrelated adults, prohibiting indoor assemblies of over ten people, and requiring operators to give access to all buildings/rooms to the city without notice or warrant.

The STR Ordinance was particularly painful given that HomeAway is headquartered in Austin, one of the largest STR sites on the planet.

And locals were quite embarrassed when it came time for South by Southwest (one of the tech industry’s premier pilgrimages every year) and Uber wasn’t an option for visitors.

These regulations led to the tech industry ending an era of individuals caring about politics and the sector armed itself politically overnight as a whole, organizing in a meaningful way for the first time in Austin’s history.

Earning a bad rap

Despite the seeds of organization being planted, the regulations led to the perception that Austin politicians are anti-tech, which rippled throughout the tech and venture capital (VC) world.

Because investors, both of the angel or VC variety, see the city as not friendly to tech, they’ve quietly expressed an unwillingness to invest in Austin companies.

And who can blame them? If they invest funds in Austin companies and the city cuts them off at the knees, they believe they’ll be better served playing it safe in the Valley or in their own backyard.

Thus, the upper echelon in Austin tech is extremely excited about the expected return of Uber and Lyft. While there is a deep care and concern about mobility, the real reason being whispered in town, is that the kink in the financial hose will be straightened out and the flow will return, if not strengthen.

#DollaDollaBillsYall

Lani is the Chief Operating Officer at The American Genius - she has co-authored a book, co-founded BASHH and Austin Digital Jobs, and is a seasoned business writer and editorialist with a penchant for the irreverent.

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3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Paul O'Brien

    May 22, 2017 at 5:57 pm

    It’s really not more complicated than this….. some of Austin thinks we’re all downtown and can/will bike to meetings. Most of Austin is everywhere but downtown and well beyond the city limits. If we can’t get around, we can’t do business. Making it burdensome to get around, just because, is stupid.

    I don’t need to get an Uber. Austin being difficult about enabling any form of transportation makes it burdensome to get around and makes everyone in the world wonder why we’d bother to get in the middle of things that ease business.

  2. Judah Ross

    May 22, 2017 at 10:38 pm

    Good, it’s about time the tech industry started throwing their weight around. We have enough special interest groups driving the conversation, at least tech is generally progressive and pro growth. Next lets put some energy into highways and density.

  3. Pingback: Act II: Uber and Lyft are *almost* back in Austin - The American Genius

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Opinion Editorials

Facebook fights falsehoods (it’s a false flag)

(EDITORIAL) Facebook has chosen Reuters to monitor its site for false information, but what can one company really do, and why would Facebook only pick one?

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So Facebook has finally taken a step to making sure fake news doesn’t get spread on it’s platform. Like many a decision from them though, they haven’t been thorough with their venture.

I am a scientifically driven person, I want facts, figures, and evidence to determine what is reality. Technology is a double edged sword in this arena; sure having a camera on every device any person can hold makes it easy to film events, but deepfakes have made even video more questionable.

Many social media platforms have tried to ban deepfakes but others have actually encouraged it. “I’ll believe it when I see it” was the rally cry for the skeptical, but now it doesn’t mean anything. Altering video in realistic ways has destroyed the credibility of the medium, we have to question even what we see with our eyes.

The expansion of the internet has created a tighter communication net for all of humanity to share, but when specific groups want to sway everyone else there isn’t a lot stopping them if they shout louder than the rest.

With the use of bots, and knowing the specifics of a group you want to sway, it’s easy to spread a lie as truth. Considering how much information is known about almost any user on any social media platform, it’s easy to pick targets that don’t question what they see online.

Facebook has been the worst offender in knowing consumer data and what they do with that data. Even if you never post anything political, they know what your affiliation is. If you want to delete that information, it’s hidden in advertising customization.

Part of me is thrilled that Facebook has decided to try and stand against this spread of misinformation, but how they pursued this goal is anything but complete and foolproof.

Reuters is the news organization that Facebook has chosen to fact check the massive amount of posts, photos, and videos that show up on their platform everyday. It makes sense to grab a news organization to verify facts compared to “alternative facts”.

A big problem I have with this is that Reuters is a company, companies exist to make money. Lies sell better than truths. Ask 2007 banks how well lies sell, ask Enron how that business plan worked out, ask the actors from Game of Thrones about that last season.

Since Reuters is a company, some other bigger company could come along, buy them, and change everything, or put in people who let things slide. Even Captain America recognizes this process. “It’s run by people with agendas, and agendas change.” This could either begin pushing falsehoods into Facebook, or destroy Reuters credibility, and bite Facebook in the ass.

If some large group wants to spread misinformation, but can’t do it themselves, why wouldn’t they go after the number one place that people share information?

I really question if Reuters can handle the amount of information flowing through Facebook, remember almost a 3rd of the whole world uses Facebook. 2.45 Billion people will be checked by 25,800 employees at Reuters? I can appreciate their effort, but they will fail.

Why did Facebook only tag one company to handle this monumental task? If you know that many people are using your platform, and such a limited number of people work for the company you tasked with guarding the users, why wouldn’t you tag a dozen companies to tackle that nigh insurmountable number of users?

I think it’s because Facebook just needs that first headline “Facebook fights falsehoods”. That one line gets spread around but the rest of the story is ignored, or not thought about at all. If there is anything Facebook has learned about the spread of fake information on their platform, it’s how to spread it better.

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Opinion Editorials

Will shopping for that luxury item actually lower your quality of life?

(EDITORIAL) Want to buy yourself a pick-me-up? Have you thought of all the ramifications of that purchase? Try to avoid splurging on it.

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In an era of “treat-yo-self,” the urge to splurge is real. It doesn’t help that shopping – or what ends up being closer to impulse shopping – provides us with a hit of dopamine and a fleeting sense of control. Whether your life feels like it’s going downhill or you’ve just had a bad day, buying something you want (or think you want) can seem like an easy fix.

Unfortunately, it might not be so great when it comes to long-term happiness.

As you might have already guessed, purchasing new goods doesn’t fall in line with the minimalism trend that’s been sweeping the globe. Being saddled with a bunch of stuff you don’t need (and don’t even like!) is sure to make your mood dip, especially if the clutter makes it harder to concentrate. Plus, if you’ve got a real spending problem, the ache in your wallet is sure to manifest.

If that seems depressing, I’ve got even more bad news. Researchers at Harvard and Boston College have found yet another way spending can make us more unhappy in the long run: imposter syndrome. It’s that feeling you get when it seems like you’re not as good as your peers and they just haven’t caught on yet. This insecurity often arises in competitive careers, academics and, apparently, shopping.

Now, there’s one big caveat to this idea that purchasing goods will make you feel inferior: it really only applies to luxury goods. I’m talking about things like a Louis Vuitton purse, a top of the line Mercedes Benz, a cast iron skillet from Williams Sonoma (or is that one just me?). The point is, the study found that about 67% of people – regardless of their income – believed their purchase was inauthentic to their “true self.”

And this imposter syndrome even existed when the luxury items were bought on sale.

Does this mean you should avoid making a nice purchase you’ve been saving up for? Not necessarily. One researcher at Cambridge found that people were more likely to report happiness for purchases that fit their personalities. Basically, a die-hard golfer is going to enjoy a new club more than someone who bought the same golf club to try to keep up with their co-workers.

Moral of the story: maybe don’t impulse buy a fancy new Apple watch. Waiting to see if it’s something you really want can save your budget…and your overall happiness.

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Opinion Editorials

How to ask your manager for better work equipment

(EDITORIAL) Old computer got you down? Does it make your job harder? Here’s how to make a case to your manager for new equipment without budget worries.

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better equipment, better work

Aside from bringing the boss coffee and donuts for a month before asking, 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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