What If Prop 1 Is About More than Money?

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It’s May 3rd, the last day of early vote in what is sure to go down as an historic election in Austin. By now, you’re probably an expert on exactly how much money Uber and Lyft have spent to pass their bespoke regulations. ($8.1 million for those of you not in the 512 miniverse.) Their version of ensuring public safety would allow them to operate in Austin without fingerprint background checks and with the added bonus of being able to pick up and drop off customers, er, riders, in any lane they choose–so steel yourself for even more dangerous, erratic driving, people of Austin. You may be able to draw a chart by hand illustrating the 81-1 ratio of Ridesharing Works for Austin (Uber & Lyft’s PAC) funds and Our City, Our Safety, Our Choice (the anti-Prop 1 PAC with a name that’s more than a mouthful).

The enormity of Uber and Lyft’s investment to secure the regulations they require to operate the way their business plans dictate means that the number one story coming out of this election is how much money they’re spending. The extraordinary campaign we’re witnessing (perhaps “withstanding” would be a better choice of words) is the result of this business expense called a municipal special election. The $8.1 million Uber and Lyft have invested in the Prop 1 election means they’ve achieved complete media saturation, including social media. (I was totally bummed that a RWA ad started playing on my browser while reading a Game of Thrones recap yesterday morning–can’t a girl relive Jon Snow’s resurrection in peace?) It doesn’t seem to matter what any news outlet has to say about the claims on the mailers and in the ads–Politifact Texas reports that fingerprint background checks will not cost taxpayers millions? Who cares! Tim Riggins wants me to vote for Lyft and he reminds me of my coolest, worst boyfriend ever.

One thing I will give Uber and Lyft is that they’ve made it beyond easy to understand the role of money in this election. There’s nothing tricky about it. Uber and Lyft want to the rules to go their way and they’re willing to spend $8.1 million to make sure they do. Brilliantly, they played their trump card from the get go–we’ll leave Austin if you force us to use fingerprint background checks for our drivers (who do no work for us, btw). It’s literally their way or the highway.

Meanwhile, most of political Austin is completely gobsmacked by the money and the type of campaign it can buy. It’s all we can talk about. Honestly, it would be a great time to pull a fast one in Austin because nobody’s paying attention to anything but the Uber election.

However, there are other things going on in this election that we should be talking about, and are not, because we’ve got dollar signs in our eyeballs like Daffy Duck.

Here’s what comes to mind this morning, in no particular order:

The complete pain in the ass that is getting around in Austin, no matter where you live or how you get around. The decades of decisions, including the light rail referendum defeats, that set up the transportation disaster we live with. Austin’s incredible rate of growth and what we can do right now to handle it (other than let Uber and Lyft operate according to their own rules). The increasing libertarian leanings of Austinites, and how they fall along a continuum from conservative to progressive. The Travis County Republican Party’s use of this election as a major opportunity. The shift in personal identification with 20th century institutions such as political parties, religious organizations and civic groups to identification with individual leaders and corporate brands, particularly for political engagement and activity. How Uber can continue to treat victims’ of sexual and physical assault so callously. The prioritization of safety from drunk driving over other types of safety (which places cis males’ perception of safety ahead of those who are more frequent victims of assault), rather than seeing safety as safety, period.

Last but not least, there’s the Texas Legislature. I’m pretty sure someone’s walking around with draft legislation to make it illegal in the state of Texas for a city or town to enact any regulations about ridesharing companies. It’ll be state bidness then.

In other words, Texas forever.

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  1. “Their version of ensuring public safety would allow them to operate in Austin without fingerprint background checks and with the added bonus of being able to pick up and drop off customers, er, riders, in any lane they choose–so steel yourself for even more dangerous, erratic driving, people of Austin.”

    This is false. It’s already illegal to pick up and drop off passengers in a traffic lane, both for everyday citizens as well as taxis and TNCs. Including it in the TNC ordinance is needless duplication.

    “It doesn’t seem to matter what any news outlet has to say about the claims on the mailers and in the ads–Politifact Texas reports that fingerprint background checks will not cost taxpayers millions?”

    Rather ironically, PolitiFact’s last two articles about the Austin TNC situation have both been rife with errors. Gardner Selby attempted to use Houston as a barometer for determining how much increased TNC regulations would cost taxpayers, but he clearly failed to read the following memo:

    https://www.scribd.com/doc/245398027/Status-of-Preparation-for-TNC-Applicant-Processing-1-1

    “One thing I will give Uber and Lyft is that they’ve made it beyond easy to understand the role of money in this election. There’s nothing tricky about it.”

    What, seriously?? The *genesis* of this entire issue centers on the entirely *opaque* money donated to various Austin City Council members, including Ann Kitchen and Kathie Tovo, from the various members of the Austin taxi cartel — much of it in dubiously “bundled” style (a la Karl Rove before Citizens United). Those generous campaign donations didn’t buy their *votes*, but it absolutely bought them access; Ann Kitchen’s staff first met with Yellow Cab’s CEO two months after she assumed office.

    Despite the previous Council being smart enough to know a con when they saw it, Kitchen did not, and she was fully convinced that fingerprinting TNC drivers was *imperative* for “public safety” — never mind the small problem of there literally being no quantitative PROOF that fingerprinting is any better or worse than the electronic background checks Uber and Lyft already use. (Kitchen was somehow also convinced into thinking Yellow Cab was acting “in the public’s interest” as opposed to its own.)

    In any event, it’s only “easy” to understand Uber’s and Lyft’s roles … though it sounds almost like you’d prefer it if they spent millions on the sly, like the taxi lobby does.

    “Austin’s incredible rate of growth and what we can do right now to handle it (other than let Uber and Lyft operate according to their own rules).”

    Do Austin journalists, like, have some sort of secret coven wherein they decide to frame issues in completely FALSE manners? Uber and Lyft may be paying the campaign costs, but the people of Austin — over 65,000 of them — are the ones who got the referendum on the ballot in the first place, and Austinites will be the ones deciding this issue. I am continually stunned at the unrepentant comments in the Austin media suggesting that Austinites are total idiots who can readily be conned by some slick TV ads — PARTICULARLY given that, by and large, nearly everyone who votes in a single-issue, midterm election like this one is exceptionally well-informed about the topic at hand. You can practically cut the condescension with a knife here.

    So, no: Uber and Lyft are not going to be “operating by their own rules,” nor did they “rewrite the rules themselves.” Rather, Austinites collectively concluded that its city council screwed the pooch in voting to mandate TNC fingerprinting, and as is their LEGAL RIGHT, they called for a public referendum on the matter. If said referendum passes, Austin will revert to using the so-called “Leffingwell ordinance” to regulate TNCs, and fingerprinting will be off the table.

    But still: y’all aren’t gonna let this go, are you? (“Y’all” meaning the media.) Uber and Lyft will have “bought the vote,” leaving Austin without a desperately needed fingerprint mandate … this despite the RIDICULOUSLY OBVIOUS AND YET UTTERLY IGNORED FACT that Austin and Houston are the ONLY TWO CITIES IN AMERICA with a fingerprint mandate. But sure, we’re right and the other 99% of the country is totally wrong!

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