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March 13 2017

Austin’s Struggle with Transportation After Uber, Lyft Ride Out of Town

by Patrice L. Onwuka

Uber and Lyft rode out of Austin last year due to regulations, but the biggest test for the city’s transportation options just kicked off this weekend, and so far, they have failed.

SXSW, the biggest music/tech/film conference in the country, kicked off this weekend drawing hundreds of thousands of people to Austin. In years past, ride hailing and ride sharing companies alongside taxicabs have been able to meet the demands of thousands of passengers shuttling between hotels, bars, and conference locations. This year was different.

After losing a ballot initiative fight that would have required that drivers be fingerprinted as part of the background check process, Uber and Lyft left the city entirely in May 2016. The city seemed to be doing just fine as the free market delivered new alternatives. Seven new apps including RideAustin, Fasten and Fare popped to deliver the same services, although less flashy or well-developed but potentially even cheaper than Uber and Lyft. Entrepreneurs, hungry to take advantage of the market opportunity, sprang up.

And then SXSW kicked off on the first night, the rain poured, and riders logged on to apps from the other smaller companies that have as TechCrunch reports:

Last night, arguably the biggest night of SXSW, it rained – and everyone wanted a ride. And on cue, the apps failed. Overloaded with demand, Ride Austin and Fasten were essentially “bricked” – you either got stuck at a loading screen or the apps said there were no cars available – when there clearly were.

Riders were stuck, and drivers were circling the city with no way to get matched up with riders.

Spent an hour trying to find a ride.

Austin is broken w/o Uber or Lyft. Other ridesharing apps aren't working and all the taxis are full. — Ryan Hoover (@rrhoover) March 12, 2017

Others weren’t so kind to the city as GeekWire reports:

Spent an hour trying to find a ride.

Austin is broken w/o Uber or Lyft. Other ridesharing apps aren't working and all the taxis are full.

— Ryan Hoover (@rrhoover) March 12, 2017

Hey, cities, here's a concept: before you ban Uber and Lyft, how about making sure there are enough cabs or other ways of getting around?pic.twitter.com/i0JObG8nW4

— David Pogue (@Pogue) March 12, 2017

The apps were unable to handle the high demand and failed for hours, leaving visitors trying to hail cabs, stranded or arranging rides from non-taxi drivers willing to accept cash and other online payment means. Not exactly safe or ideal.

Interestingly, we learned that while the companies blamed the heavier demand caused by SXSW, drivers reported that this is a normal phenomenon during busy times like New Year’s Eve.

In major cities like Austin ride-sharing and ride-hailing has become such a part of the transportation infrastructure that when the two biggest companies ride0hailing companies exit, it leaves a notable vacuum of options. That vacuum has opened the door to new innovators trying to deliver the same services, but when tested the immaturity of those services is not enough to stand up in high-volume moments.

When Uber and Lyft left Austin last year after a ballot initiative to lift heavy regulations on ridesharing failed, the city didn’t make a big deal but dug its heels deeper into a policy that adds regulations. DUIs are up in Austin as a result, but the biggest test for the city’s policy was whether they could provide the level of transportation needed to keep the city going for those who need a ride. We’ll see whether the city will reconsider its policy. If this kind of outage happens again, it just may.

 

Independent Women’s Forum’s mission is to improve the lives of Americans by increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty. Sister organization of Independent Women’s Voice.
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