Ubergeddon in Austin via @TravelLatte.net

Ubergeddon – What happens in Austin should stay in Austin

If you were to visit Austin in the past few days, you would be forgiven for thinking the world had ended. You see, ride-share companies Uber and Lyft packed up and left, and Austin has apparently ceased to function.

Despite a multi-million dollar campaign in its favor, Austinites voted down Proposition One, which would have let Uber, Lyft, and similar companies, operate under less stringent rules. You can read more about the issue, the vote, and the results in this excellent article by Joshua Baer.

Many say this was an arm wrestling match between big tech companies and municipal officials over who gets to dictate the rules. Uber and Lyft did not get their way, and decided not to bend their businesses to fit the city’s requirements. As a business, that’s their choice. But it can’t be said that Austin won this one. Hundreds of drivers are now unemployed, thousands of people are not getting around town, and there is money not being spent in the local economy. Possibly lots of it.

It may seem like a trivial thing, but many locals are up in arms over the unintended consequences: Students who relied on the services to get to and from classes at UT Austin; Disabled with no other transportation to the store or doctor. Many say that, while the intent was to make riders safer, the streets are less safe as people choose to drive themselves home from the famous Sixth Street bars and clubs in various states of inebriation. And throngs of visitors are getting stuck at the airport or hotel, sometimes for hours, waiting for a taxi.

In the age of Social Media, word of Austin’s issues spread like a wildfire through tumbleweeds. While Austinites expressed their frustration, it led outsiders to ponder their travel plans. Suddenly, Austin was off the map for some.

Looking at our own travels since rideshare services blossomed, almost all of our spending on transportation at a destination has shifted to Uber instead of taxis and rental cars. We rely on the service to get where we need to go when we need to be there. But would we avoid a city because Uber or Lyft don’t operate there? There is a trip to Austin on our calendar, which we cannot cancel, but would we if we could, knowing that Uber is not an option?

Our answer is no. Absence of ride-sharing won’t keep us from visiting someplace, and there are plenty of places without ridesharing around the world. However, it will change what we do and how we spend our money in those cities. One of the key benefits of ridesharing is the lower price. More money on taxis means less money spent in the restaurants, hotels, clubs and attractions in town. And the effect may be even more profound. On principle, I’m not spending $20 to get to a discretionary location – meaning, if I don’t HAVE to go, I won’t. That money is staying in my pocket now, along with whatever I might have spent once I got there.

Another great benefit is the immediate and impromptu nature of rideshare apps. Need a ride? No problem, let’s just Uber it. No Uber means research, calling a cab – which can be hit or miss in terms of timing – or planning around public transit schedules. Sometimes, it’s easier to just stay where you are.

What about you? If a city loses Uber/Lyft, do they lose your business too? Does the absence of rideshare services change your travel spending habits? And who, exactly, did Uber execs call for a (ahem) Lyft to the airport?

4 comments on “Ubergeddon – What happens in Austin should stay in Austin

  1. Council was bought off by the taxi companies. The chair of the Transportation Committee got 20% of her final month’s contributions before the last election from a bundler who happens to be the president of Yellow Cab. Then, she rewrote the interim regs to put in a provision she knew Uber/Lyft wouldn’t tolerate – a poison pill if you like. Then, the standard “campaign consultants” got involved because they needed to keep the cab donations flowing to their candidates. They sold the gullible ideologues here on really superficial things that are hot buttons to the local true believers — “massive corporations”, “don’t let them bully us”, “corporate profits”. Just ask a person who was in favor of booting U/L to quantify the safety differences between fingerprinting and on-line background checks (which was the essence of the debate) — they couldn’t do it. No one who voted against this voted against it on the merits. And the consultants knew it.

    • Hey Scott – Yeah, that’s the impression we got from several folks we’ve heard from. Shame, really. I don’t think this was the outcome anyone expected, and certainly not what many were hoping for! Seems like there is a lot of pressure to revisit and find some middle ground. We’ve become pretty consistent Uber users, so we’re keeping our fingers crossed!

  2. It’s a shame, but the capital of Texas seems so anti-free enterprise. Who’d have thought it? The photos you shared are a bit of a disappointment; it seems that there aren’t enough taxis in the city as it is. I feel badly for the families who have lost a source of income. I hope they all apply for public assistance to make a point!

    • Hi Linda – It really seems like a mess. I didn’t realize there was a taxi shortage, and I wonder if that was caused by Uber’s popularity. But I don’t think Austinites were prepared for life without Uber when they voted for the measure. Of course, I don’t think anyone expected Uber to just leave town, either. It will be interesting to see what happens, and how other cities react. Thanks for stopping by!

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