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Austin’s Ridesharing Battle

austin's ridesharing battle
Uber vs The City? It’s complicated…
In December, Austin City Council voted to require vehicle-for-hire drivers to pass fingerprint-based background checks. Companies like Uber and Lyft were not happy, and threatened to pull their services from the Austin area, just as they had done when places like San Antonio passed similar restrictions. Customers and drivers alike were not happy with the possibility that Uber and Lyft would no longer operate in Austin. Ridesharing Works gained over 65,000 signatures for it’s petition, and the likelihood of a public vote on these issues has risen in the early months of 2016. A little background: The conversation concerning ride sharing services like Uber and Lyft is a global one that has existed since their inception. Austin is fighting the same fight that many other cities are fighting. To hear the cities tell it, it’s all about security. Austin’s City Council voted, among other things, to require more extensive background checks for drivers. Amidst complaints of sexual assault and other felonies, city governments are attempting to impose regulations similar to those imposed on taxi cab companies. They believe these regulations will make it safer for their citizens to use these services. From companies like Uber and Lyft, it’s about unfair and sometimes illogical regulations. This Lyft driver points out inconsistencies in the effectiveness of fingerprint background checks, as well as exaggerated reports of ridesharing crime in the Austin area. The local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Austin Urban league co-authored a letter to City Council warning that such background checks could lead to racial discrimination. Even Austin Police Chief, Art Acevedo, expressed concern that TNCs leaving town could open the door for more drunk drivers, adding gasoline to an already significant fire. So what to do? It’s easier to point the finger at City Council. It always is. While companies like Uber and Lyft can concern themselves with making money for their drivers and providing a service that their customers (riders) want, City Council is faced with the more difficult task of governing. Implicit in this word, governing, is the sometimes daunting task of making decisions adverse to the wishes of a certain segment of the general population. In a “government of the people, by the people, for the people”, this is a very fine line to walk. While Uber and Lyft are wonderfully convenient, and complaints about the service of taxi cab companies are legitimate, it’s important to hold Uber and Lyft accountable for this situation as well. The safety charges against these companies are very real. A quick Google search will show incidents all over the world, and while it’s obvious that companies like Uber and Lyft are not wholly responsible for something as common as harassment, it’s also true that there has proven to be a lack of accountability displayed by some of these companies. This is not a plea to stop using Uber or Lyft. I’ve used both services countless times with nothing but excellent experiences and zero complaints. But by operating from such a position of power, of petulance, it seems Uber and Lyft are hurting both their riders and their drivers. This is a plea to look at the situation from both sides. It’s imperative for our elected officials to compromise with these companies, but negotiations are always a two-way street. Uber and Lyft need to come to the table too, and hopefully our leaders in government and commerce can co-exist. We should be able to find a middle ground. Regulation and profit are not mutually exclusive.

Logan Theissen

Logan is a Content Marketing Associate at FreightPros in charge of social media and content creation. He has a writing degree from the University of Oklahoma, but lives life on the edge and resides in Longhorn country. He loves Murakami books, Tarantino movies, and Vonnegut books. Lots of books. One day he will own a dog, but first he'll have to get a yard.

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