The headline in The New York Times opinion section: “How Austin Beat Uber.”
A pitched political battle between the City of Austin and transportation networking giants Uber and Lyft resulted in Austin voters rejecting a proposition on May 6 that would have eased city regulation of ride-sharing services. One of the sticking points that the Uber-Lyft forces opposed was the fingerprint background checks of their drivers. Two days later Uber and Lyft pulled out of the Austin market. The citizenry lost transportation options, the 10,000 drivers lost their jobs, and Uber and Lyft lost the $9 million they invested in advertising and advocacy to promote the referendum. And the Uber and Lyft brands took a hit in the process. Did anybody win?
A few things are clear. The Uber/Lyft faction didn’t do a good job of explaining why voters should have supported Proposition 1. They didn’t make a good rational argument or a good emotional argument. The City of Austin did not appreciate being bullied by the two global ride-hailing behemoths.
With its large population of young, tech-savvy workers, several college campuses, endless festivals such as South by Southwest, and a shortage of taxis, Austin seems like perfect turf for ride-sharing.
My view: Uber’s culture promotes the empowerment of its drivers and flexibility for its customers. But its actions in failing to negotiate successfully with the City of Austin resulted in unemployment for its drivers and the stranding of its customers. Its behavior didn’t match its values and everybody has suffered.