On May 4th the City of Austin — reeling from several recent highly publicized drunk driving deaths — launched a new page on its website aimed at helping residents and visitors find their way home safe at night. It includes every current legal means to get home along with their contact information, plus some basic helpful tips.
One thing you won't find any mention of is rideshare. That's because the City of Austin has so far not approved any, but on May 15th the Council will consider a pilot program to do just that.
I spoke with Transportation spokeswoman Samantha Alexander — see what she said below the jump…Alexander said the City's “Get Home Safe” webpage was inspired by the “ongoing conversation in the community,” but that none of the options are new — including the ability to leave your car downtown overnight. In fact, according to Alexander the Department encourages people to leave their car downtown overnight if they are over the legal limit. She said the best place to look for information on when fines are enforced is on the meters themselves, or are on the City's webpage dedicated to parking information. Saturday enforcement doesn't begin until 11 a.m., and there is not Sunday enforcement.
Referencing parking downtown overnight the new page says:
The City has more than 3,000 parking spaces on the street in Downtown Austin (IH-35 to Lamar Boulevard, and Lady Bird Lake to 10th Street) where people can leave their cars parked overnight. The parking meters in Downtown Austin have yellow “Next Day” buttons that allow people to buy meter time for the next day. What happens if you forget to buy time for the next day and leave your car overnight? The Austin Transportation Department does not tow vehicles. If you get a parking ticket but made the responsible decision of taking a taxi or bus home, we'll waive the ticket! Bring your ticket and taxi or bus receipt to 1111 Rio Grande Street. Remember, meters are not enforced on Sundays.
I asked how the City was publicizing the information now that there is a clear disconnect between what options are available and what options people think are available. The City published the webpage and promoted in their newsletter and on its social media channels. Generally their idea is to create a culture where people “know before [they]go,” and that is a good idea.
Of course there is still a chasm between what is available and what people want, which is more: more night owl service, more rail service, more taxi cabs and more options in general. The webpage concludes with: “Do you know of another resource that should be added to this list? If so, click here to email the Austin Transportation team.” Alexander said so far they have received requests but none for services they can not publicize (read rideshare) and if or when they do, the person will be notified and their request will be forwarded to the appropriate person or agency.
The website is a great step but contains obvious limitations. Even if you have the number to a taxicab service, it doesn't help if they refuse to take you where you want to go. That illegal practice is a common complaint for individuals traveling within the Central Business District and was highlighted in an investigative report by KVUE. CEO of Electric Cab Chris Neilson understands that well as a former concierge at a downtown hotel. He said trouble finding guests rides short distances is what gave him the idea to start E-Cabs in the first place.
So when it comes to new services or expanding capacity of existing options we have to turn our attention to our policy makers, and fortunately, these issues are gaining traction in the creative community which is the foundation of our town's booze-fueled festival economy.
It is clear from Council's May 15th proposed agenda that they are listening. Several items seemed to be plucked from past weeks transportation headlines including more taxis and rideshare. Item number 25 sponsored by Councilman Chris Riley that calls for approval of a,
“resolution directing the City Manager to work with stakeholders to develop recommendations for a pilot program authorizing the use of Transportation Network Companies, companies that use online-enabled platforms to connect passengers with drivers using personal, non-commercial vehicles to operate in some capacity, including suggesting regulations addressing passenger and driver safety, and reporting recommendations back to Council.”
Item 26 also sponsored by Riley calls for a approval of a,
“resolution directing the City Manager to work with taxi franchises and other stakeholders to consider short and long term options for meeting taxi demand, including the use of additional or specialized taxi permits, and the use of Transportation Networking Companies.”
The question still remains whether the creative community and the community at large knows what is on the table, and will frustrations be channeled towards seeing these solutions through?
If you are interested in an offline discussion regarding these issues I suggest attending the ATX Safer Streets launch party this Sunday May 11th 4 p.m. at the Brixton (1412 E. 6th, Austin).
Here is the link to the City of Austin's “Get Home Safe” website.
You can follow me on Twitter at @joethepleb.