Uber and Lyft resume operations in Austin

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Photo Credit: Melanie Westfall | Daily Texan Staff

Uber and Lyft returned to Austin on May 29 — the same day Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law a bill deregulating ride-hailing services. 

Authored by state Rep. Chris Paddie, R-Marshall, HB 100 establishes a statewide framework for operating the companies, overturning local city ordinances such as Proposition 1 passed last May by the Austin City Council. 

The Austin ordinance, which went into effect after a city-wide vote last May, required ride-hailing companies to fingerprint their drivers as an added safety precaution. After pumping almost $9 million into campaigning and having an unsuccessful outcome in the ballot vote, Uber and Lyft withdrew their services to the city, saying this requirement was a burden. 

The new law still mandates that drivers undergo background checks and provide “all necessary information” to passengers, but they will not have to be fingerprinted. 

While signing HB 100, Gov. Abbott called Austin’s ordinance “heavy-handed” and said it limits the free market. 

“What today really is is a celebration of freedom and free enterprise,” Abbott said. “This is freedom for every Texan, especially those who live in the Austin area, to be able to choose the provider of their choice as it concerns transportation.”

Since the bill received more than a two-thirds vote in both chambers, it went into effect immediately, allowing Uber and Lyft to return within the hour. 

Although spokespeople for Mayor Steve Adler said he had no further comments about HB 100 becoming law, he expressed his disapproval in a May 17 statement following both chambers passing the bill. 

“I’m disappointed that the Legislature chose to nullify the bedrock principles of self-governance and limited government by imposing regulations on our city over the objection of Austin voters,” Adler said in the statement. “Our city should be proud of how we filled the gap created when Uber and Lyft left, and we now must hope that they return ready to compete in a way that reflects Austin’s values.”

In Uber and Lyft’s absence, some of the companies that filled the gap included RideAustin, Fasten and Fare. RideAustin CEO Andy Tryba said he started the company as a nonprofit to give back to the Austin community. 

“We started RideAustin to bring mobility back after Uber abruptly chose to leave Austinites out-of-work and stranded,” Tryba said in a statement. “While we respect the State Legislature’s ability to overrule Austin voters, we believe the local Austin community is the best to set local Austin rules.  In any scenario, we believe that RideAustin represents the local community values and will continue to be embraced by the local community.” 

 

Katie Hall, an Austin American-Statesman reporter, wrote on Twitter on May 17 that Tryba said RideAustin would shut down if they fell below 20,000 rides per week. Hall said the company currently averages between 50,000 and 70,000 rides a week.

 

Public health senior Kamia Rathore said she feels Uber and Lyft tried to strong-arm the city of Austin both in the special referendum and at the Capitol. Rathore said Uber and Lyft left hundreds of drivers scrambling when they left abruptly and since then she has primarily used Fasten. 

 

“Fasten and other smaller companies have provided the same service in the past year while still showing Austin residents that it respects them,” Rathore said. “So I’m sticking with the underdogs.”