Austin City Council is now facing opposition to a vote taken in December regarding the requirements for transportation networking companies, or TNC’s, like Uber and Lyft. Specifically, the ordinance would require TNC’s to undergo similar safety procedures to taxi cabs, including a fingerprint background check.
Uber and Lyft have a history of opposing such municipal attempts. Both Houston and San Antonio have considered the issue, with varying results.
When the Austin City Council considered the ordinance, Uber and Lyft warned that they would not operate in cities that had such provisions. Councilmembers still voted – by a large margin – to pass the increased safety requirements.
Within a matter of weeks, Ridesharing Works, the Uber and Lyft-supported campaign against the increased standards, reported that they had collected a shocking 65,103 petition signatures. If accepted, those signatures would force City Council to choose between reverting to the looser standards set in 2014 or to place the petition language on the ballot in May.
On their website, Ridesharing Works claimed that they received more support than “any mayor in Austin history.” Like most of the messaging coming from Uber, Lyft, and their campaign, this is a highly misleading claim.
While they did collect more signatures than Mayor Adler got votes in the November mayoral election, they did so by an incredibly small margin – 687, to be exact. Far more Austinites voted in the mayoral and city council elections than signed the petition to force the City Council’s hand, and it is no stretch to say that those who did sign the petition received mixed messages at best.
Almost all of Ridesharing Works’ available information asks Austinites to support ridesharing and “keep” companies like Uber and Lyft in Austin, as if the Austin City Council had voted on an outright ban of TNC’s within the city limits.
You need to look no further than this promotional video from the Ridesharing Works website to see the issue. In it, a young woman explains why she is helping to collect signatures for the petition:
“We want to reach 20,000 [signatures]so that we can get ridesharing on the ballot, so that Austin voters can decide if they would really like to keep ridesharing in Austin.”
The ordinance, and the resulting petition that she was helping to bring to City Council, is not about “keeping” ridesharing in the city. Should the measure make it on to a ballot, Austin voters would still not be voting on whether to “keep” ridesharing in their communities.
Through Ridesharing Works, Uber and Lyft are feeding the public a misleading narrative. Like this commercial which aired on the CW following the City Council’s decision to reconsider increased requirements in light of public safety threats like the recent allegations of sexual assault against Uber, Lyft, and taxi drivers, this campaign paints TNCs as the innocent victims in a city’s vicious attack on their right to provide a service to its citizens.
Uber and Lyft aren’t being forced out of Austin. These companies are willfully refusing to compromise on issues of safety not just in our community, but across the state, and in cities all over the country. But that’s not quite as motivating a tag line as “keep ridesharing in Austin.”
When they do address the issue of safety, it is always through the creation of a false choice. According to Uber and Lyft, Austin can either have a reduction in the number of drunk driving incidents through a higher number of options for intoxicated residents, or it can utilize a combination of provisions to address other public safety concerns like preventing sexual assault when those inebriated Austinites get into their ride home.
This narrative is irrefutably false. It is possible to support and encourage innovative solutions to drunk driving and to have proactive policies in place to prevent sexual assault. It is only impossible from the perspective of corporations that value profit and ease of operation over community engagement and public safety.