As of Monday morning, you can no longer get Uber or Lyft in Austin, Texas. Both companies have suspended service there indefinitely, after residents voted this weekend to keep a new city law that regulates ride-sharing services and requires them, among other things, to fingerprint drivers as part of the background check process.
Here & Now's Jeremy Hobson speaks with Nathan Bernier, reporter and host at Here & Now contributor KUT, about the vote and about how people in Austin are reacting.
Interview Highlights: Nathan Bernier
What kind of messages are Uber or Lyft users in Austin getting right now?
“Well, if they try and run the app, they are informed that the companies don’t work here. Both Uber and Lyft have provided a button they can press to contact their city council member, the idea here is to pressure them to change or walk back the regulations, specifically on the fingerprinting so that Uber and Lyft return to Austin.”
How are people in Austin reacting to this?
“I would say reaction is mixed, especially if you look on social media. There are some people who say Austin stood up to multi-billion dollar corporations and have sent a message across the nation that we won’t be bullied. Other people say, well the practical reality is now we have no ride-hailing apps in this city, we have 915 cabs to meet demand and, frankly, they are not capable of doing that on Friday and Saturday nights and during special events. There are also some people online that are upset that they lost their full and part-time jobs driving for Uber, so mixed reaction. I mean we had 17 percent turnout in this election, but the reaction seems like it was well beyond 17 percent.”
Did Uber and Lyft make the argument that they already had sufficient safety measures in place and fingerprinting was not necessary?
“Uber and Lyft made a number of arguments. One of them was that the GPS tracking technology in their apps, coupled with the national background checks they already conduct, ensures their drivers are safe. They also made arguments about their services contributing to a decline in DWI crashes, which was debated also. It seemed like their messaging wasn’t focused on one clear thing, and that may have harmed them overall in the campaign. It is remarkable, they spent almost $9 million in this election and the other side, the anti-proposition 1 forces that were opposed to the ordinance drafted by Uber and Lyft, they had less than $200,000 so quite a difference in spending and still Uber and Lyft didn’t manage to have this measure pass.”
This segment aired on May 9, 2016.