DWI rates likely not affected by ride-hailing companies, APD records show

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DWI rates have remained consistent in Austin despite the off-and-on presence of various ride-hailing options in the last year, according to Austin Police Department records. 

Since Uber and Lyft’s departure nearly a year ago, DWI averages have consistently remained between 400 and 600 incidents per month, a trend seen as far back as 2010, before any ride-hailing services existed in the city. 

“It goes up and down all the time,” APD Detective Mike Jennings said. “It can depend on anything from officer staffing levels to the weather. We can’t say definitively that (any ride-hailing) has had an impact.” 

Uber and Lyft began operating in Austin in 2014. The two companies ceased their services in the city on May 9 of last year, just days after a failed ballot measure, which would have overturned previous City Council regulations, such as requiring drivers to submit to fingerprint background checks. In their absence, Fasten, Ride Austin, Get Me and other ride-hailing services have launched throughout the city.

While some accept these apps as Uber and Lyft replacements, many Austin residents are not completely satisfied with their performance, especially following app outages during the South by Southwest music festival earlier this month that left many users stranded. 

“The new apps are just nowhere near as reliable,” said Jillian Quisenberry, management and information systems senior. “It definitely still deters me from drinking and driving ... but the apps are not as intuitive or user-friendly, and they’re more expensive.” 

Despite some residents’ reluctance to use the new ride-hailing options, Jennings said the department has not seen any significant fluctuation in the number of DWI arrests.

Jennings said the department sees the most DWI incidents after 2 a.m., when most bars close for the night. The heaviest concentration of bars exists in the downtown area, but Jennings said there is no one demographic more prone to DWIs than others — factors that have not changed since ride-hailing companies began operating in the city. 

“Typically, the age that we see is between 25 and 40,” Jennings said. “A lot of people think that because we have UT, we would see much higher incidents with college kids, and that’s not always the case.”

Chemical engineering senior Raymond Teer said he thinks ride-hailing apps don’t have an impact on those who are already prone to making the decision to drink and drive. 

“Uber and Lyft leaving hasn’t affected when my friends drink and go out, we’ve just used the other apps,” Teer said. “The people who will make the bad decision to drink and drive are going to justify it either way, but it’s not like there aren’t other ways to get around town.” 

Jennings said there is no sure way to determine how much of an impact ride-hailing companies have had on DWIs in the city without widespread surveying.

“To get an accurate number, you’d have to pull every single person we didn’t arrest for a DWI and say, ‘Was your option to use Uber and Lyft influenced by DWI enforcement?’” Jennings said. “We just don’t have the ability to take that kind of survey. To directly correlate those numbers is not something we can do.”