How Austin Killed Ridesharing

Deep in the Heart of Texas

Last night, after nearly 5 hours of discussion and witness testimony, Austin’s City Council pulled the trigger on an amendment to the city’s code that has far-reaching implications for the future of mobility in American cities. Under pressure from those in favor of the ordinance, the Council chose to enact policy without the due diligence that thousands and thousands of Austinites deserve from their elected leaders. There was no deadline, no reason to take action at 1:15 AM, and certainly no urgency to pass all three required readings of the ordinance in one go.

In support of the ordinance, there were arguments for ensuring passenger safety (namely sexual assault prevention), creating a fair regulatory environment for professional and nonprofessional drivers, and standing up for the right thing amidst harsh industry scrutiny. In opposition, advocates spoke about economic opportunity for drivers, anti-competitive impacts of the regulations, and reductions in impaired driving. The vote passed 9–2 and was met with cheers from taxi drivers and silent disappointment from ridesharing drivers.

Lyft’s spokesperson Chelsea Wilson immediately issued the following statement:

“Lyft will operate in Austin until mandatory fingerprint requirements force us to leave. In the meantime, we will remain at the table in an effort to create a workable ordinance and preserve the benefits ridesharing brings to visitors and residents. We do not operate in cities that require mandatory fingerprint background checks.”

But how did we end up in this situation? Why are so many passionate voices finding themselves pitted against each other? Safe driver vs safe driver. Safety expert vs safety expert. Fair regulations vs fair regulations. Taxicabs vs Transportation Network Companies. Even Austin Mayor Adler, who saw the necessity for compromise, was unsuccessful in diffusing the discussion. And what’s the big deal with fingerprinting?

Regulatory Capture

What we’re seeing in Austin today is the entirely natural reaction of incumbent firms facing disruptive technology. Joshua D. Wright, FTC Commissioner, presented his views on this phenomenon in April of this year.

I am interested in how incumbent firms respond to disruption developed by a new market participant. For example, how do established hotels respond to new competition from Airbnb? How do existing taxicab companies respond to the rise of app-based services like Uber and Lyft? How an incumbent responds to the threat of “creative destruction” is key to its future success, and in extreme cases, its future existence. — Commissioner Wright

When faced with disruptive technology (Lyft, Uber), existing companies (Yellow Cab, Austin Cab, Lone Star Cab and to some extent other options like CapMetro, Car2Go, etc.) have 3 options:

  1. Compete on merits. Consumers value a wide range of attributes for products and services. Whether it’s price, quality, availability, speed, reliability or service, the incumbents can choose to innovate further and compete with new entrant(s). We’ve seen this with Austin taxi fleets adoption of on-demand apps to hail vehicles.
  2. Exclusionary conduct. While still only involving private competition, actions that increase rival’s costs can raise antitrust questions. For example, if a local radio station forbids its advertisers from also placing ads in a local newspaper, the radio station could be found guilty of anti-competitive actions.
  3. Regulatory action. This includes a variety of tactics to influence lawmakers and regulators to act in ways that may affect competition in the marketplace.

This 3rd option is what’s of immediate interest to Austin’s new TNC ordinance passed last night. Is this a push by the existing private ground transportation providers to create protective regulations that stifle competition? Or is this truly an effort to create a fair competitive environment and increase public safety?

We should generally be skeptical of regulatory efforts that have the effect of favoring incumbent industry participants. —FTC Commissioner Wright

Once upon a time, it was commonly believed that regulation was written to maximize the good to society. Since the 1970s, the economic theory of regulation has come to the foreground in policy research. Simply put, constituents demand favorable regulation and politicians supply it in return for political support. When making policy decisions, regulators weigh political support on both sides. The group that creates the most political pressure usually prevails, and in most cases this is likely to represent private interests, not the consumer.

Politicians seldom present regulation to the public as the political bargain that it is. Instead, favored industries often claim the mantle of “consumer protection,” and argue that they need to restrain market forces for the greater good. These sorts of consumer protection concerns are often raised as a sort of “trump card” against competition and consumer choice. Although some groups may sincerely offer consumer protection concerns, because special interest groups often raise them as a fig leaf for their own narrow economic benefit, they should not necessarily be taken at face value. — William E. Kovacic, George Washington University Law School (2010)

Wait, but isn’t there a risk to public safety today?

Yes. There are always risks to public safety. Council Member Kitchen put it so articulately at the November Mobility Committee Meeting when she said,

“There’s no silver bullet for public safety.” — Austin Council Member Ann Kitchen

It’s her duty, and the duty of all our elected leaders to enact and enforce laws that maximize the benefit to safety, yet minimize the impact to free market competition.

We heard testimony from law enforcement and sexual assault prevention advocates, as well as in media coverage over the past few months, about sexual assault cases by Lyft and Uber drivers. Let’s look at the facts.

Zero. Zero confirmed cases of a Lyft, Uber, or Taxi driver committing sexual assault in Austin since Ridesharing companies launched in Austin last summer. Zero arrests. Zero convictions.

Please don’t misunderstand me. Perpetrators of sexual assault crimes have no excuse for their behavior. Every report needs to be taken seriously and fully investigated by law enforcement, and criminals need to be brought to justice. However, of the 10 cases (5 Uber, 3 Taxis, 2 Lyft) reported to the APD, investigations have been suspended on 9, and none have led to a single arrest.

In fact, the last case of a for-hire driver in Austin being arrested on sexual assault charges was a Yellow Cab driver nearly 2 years ago. The cab driver has a history of assault and family violence and passed Austin’s “best practice”, fingerprint-based background checks in 2009, 2011, and 2013.

Yes, people take on risks and there will always be the risk of a bad actor doing bad things. However, in light of the hundreds of taxi drivers and estimated ~15,000 Lyft and Uber drivers in the Austin Area, it would appear that the extensive, county-by-county record search of TNCs performs noticeably better. (A rudimentary calculation would show that 0.053% of TNC drivers and 0.33% of Taxi drivers had complaints registered with the APD.)

Austin’s push for fingerprint-based background checks are the perfect example of lawmakers exaggerating threats to public safety in order to build public support for legislation that stifles innovation and protects entrenched firms from the beneficial effects of a competitive market.

We’ve heard that fingerprinting is the only way to ensure that an applicant is who they say they are. Unfortunately, that may give clerks a positive biometric identifier, but it doesn’t guarantee that the individual’s FBI records will be accurate. The FBI background check database has been negatively affecting applicants for years. In a 2013 National Employment Law Project report, researchers highlighted that…

As early as 1971, a federal judge noted that the database, which began modestly enough, had grown “out of effective control,” overwhelmed by the “increasing availability of fingerprints, technological developments, and the enormous increase in population.” — NELP Report

Inaccurate FBI Records Impact Applicants

In 2006, the U.S. Attorney General revealed that roughly 50% of records in the FBI’s “gold standard” Triple I fingerprint database are incomplete and do not provide information about whether an individual was found guilty or innocent of a crime. There have been several attempts to improve the accuracy of the records, but the effectiveness has never been measured. (The check required by the ordinance checks the FBI’s III and TxDPS records.)

Source-based/name-based criminal background checks use the applicant’s name, SSN, date of birth, and past addresses, to check and cross check all appropriate data sources, whether primary sources (county courthouse records) or secondary (online state records, sex offender lists, terrorist watch lists.) Consumer rights are protected by the Fair Credit Reporting Act which classifies these companies as consumer reporting agencies.

“No single source exists that provides complete and up-to-date information about a person’s criminal history. If provided such access, however, users may not want to rely exclusively on an FBI and state repository check and may also want to check other record sources, such as commercial databases and local courthouses to obtain more complete and up-to-date information in support of criminal history background screening. In addition to the data quality issue of obtaining comprehensive criminal record information, there is the issue of ensuring that users are provided information that is accurate and up-to-date.” — U.S. Attorney General’s report (2006)

In CNN’s coverage in Fall 2013, Reporter Madeline Neighly mentioned that research from NELP shows that 600,000 Americans are blocked each year from opportunities they may have been perfectly qualified for because of the FBI’s incomplete and inaccurate records.

“In the face of such errors, only a fraction of job seekers successfully correct their FBI records — and then only with great effort and expense. Those unable to correct their reports are often trapped in a cycle of poverty that U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder decried in a recent speech.”- Neighly, CNN

Neighly continues to tell us about a Michigan nurse’s aide named Raquel Vanderpool. She had nearly a decade of experience when she was fired because of an FBI background check inaccurately reported a conviction from her youth that had been dismissed and sealed. After the termination, she was unable to find employment for four years while she worked to correct her FBI records. During that time she exhausted unemployment, her vehicle was repossessed, she signed up for food stamps so she could feed her children, and was forced to short sell her home after entering foreclosure. Vanderpool is now spending years cleaning up the financial wreckage that the FBI’s background checks left her in.

Racial Disparity

I thought about writing this section, but I think the Austin Area Urban League and Austin Board of the NAACP did an excellent job highlighting the effects that Ann Kitchen’s proposal to add fingerprinting requirements for TNC drivers could have if enacted. It could easily lead to removing economic benefits to portions of the community with little to no additional benefit to “public safety”.

Privacy and Security

In June 2015, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management announced that 21.5 million people were affected by a background check breach, including 1.1 million fingerprint records. This brings up legitimate concerns about how these fingerprint records will be stored, how many of the fingerprint copies as mentioned in the ordinance will be created, and why should drivers take on the increased risk of a security breach for little improvement to public safety?

Procedural Hassle

Under the new ordinance, the on-boarding process would include:

  1. Sign up on Lyft’s website: https://www.lyft.com/drivers/LYFTHOLIDAY52 (see what I did there?)
  2. Maybe buy a fire extinguisher. Pay no attention to the fact that you should probably evacuate a flaming car. (I’m not sure. It looks like the inspection details will be hammered out later.)
  3. Set up time with an Austin Transportation Department approved mechanic to have the additional inspection completed.
  4. Affix inspection sticker to your car. It’s 3 steps, 2 stickers.
  5. Meet with company representative from Lyft. I think it’s important to add that Lyft has a mentor program that they consider an asset in the onboarding process. Other Ridesharing companies use other methods to vet and train their drivers, and I believe that decision is best left to the companies to decide, not city regulators.
  6. Get fingerprinted. I assume that identoGO may be the city’s background check partner since there was a letter from them attached to the agenda highlighting their 4 convenient Austin-area locations… which are open from 8:20 AM to 4:30 PM, Monday to Friday. And they’re nowhere near the parts of town that use ridesharing the most.
IdentoGO’s 4 Austin area locations only open during regular business hours, for your convenience.

Now you just wait about a week to hear back. Be glad you aren’t ordering one for your own personal records, those take 13–15 weeks.

Not required by Austin to Carpool

Lyft’s CEO Logan Green presented his keynote address at SXSW Interactive entitled “Fixing Transportation with Humanity and Technology”, right here in beautiful Austin, TX. Three minutes in, Logan starts talking about Lyft’s vision, which has always been to fill the empty seats in our cars to reduce traffic, reduce emissions, share resources and rides, and make car ownership optional in America.

On February 27th, 2014, the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority and Carma Carpooling held a ribbon-cutting ceremony on the 183A toll road to celebrate “the only legal ridesharing network available in the city.” The press release boasts, Carma “is unique compared to other illegitimate ‘rideshare’ apps (peer-to-peer taxi services) because it matches everyday commuters to share rides. “Carmapoolers” are not ‘for hire’ drivers, and therefore, their participation is protected by Federal, State, and local laws.”

The funny thing though, I can do that with Lyft. I can turn on Drive Mode, enable Destination Filter when I’m headed to an appointment or to meet a friend, and I will only receive Lyft Line passengers headed where I’m headed. The material difference? I get compensated fairly at the market value for that ride instead of at Carma’s artificially low $0.20/mile rate.

Running vehicles at a loss may seem like a great decision in regulator’s eyes, especially if those regulator’s stand to benefit from reducing competition in the “not-losing-money” space.

In October, Carma mentioned that they completed 10,600 trips over a year (that’s about 22 daily commuters). Meanwhile, I personally took some 1,600 rides with Lyft, either as a driver or a passenger, some shared, some not in the Austin area in the past year. Without the market incentives to price, how can ridesharing scale. Carpooling hasn’t ever really caught on in the U.S. because the incentives just aren’t there. I’ve tried Carma in 2014 when I was working as a consultant. It was so dead, I never got matched.

Unfortunately, Austin’s current council seems is perfectly happy with an environment where TNCs are heavily burdened with needless, ineffective processes and regulations while drive-for-a-loss options like Carma put drivers on the road without a background check at any time. (I really do like Carma, and what they’re doing. More options for the market is better. But we need to call out the hypocrisy of Austin’s mobility policies and decisions.)

Over the past few months, we’ve watched the Mobility Committee under the leadership of District 5 Council Member Ann Kitchen to disguise a strong push for anti-competitive, protectionist regulations which maximize profits for the taxi franchise owners as an attempt to solve some fabricated, imminent public safety threat.

It’s been heart-wrenching to watch politicians and Austin’s oligarchy of transportation providers exploit organizations like SafePlace, the Austin nonprofit on a mission to end sexual assault and exploitation, child abuse, and domestic violence through prevention, intervention, and advocacy for change. SafePlace is critical to freeing Austin from the rape epidemic.

WhosDrivingYou.org, a taxi-industry advocacy organization against Ridesharing, published a blog post yesterday implying that Lyft and Uber were somehow bullying Austin’s City Council. The author contemplates whether Austin’s city leaders took such a strong stance because 7 of them are women, and “men who use Uber and Lyft enjoy cheap plentiful rides, basically risk-free. It’s women who pay in pain for Uber’s and Lyft’s refusal to fingerprint check drivers. It’s alarming that the taxi industry and public safety advocates managed to align their interests given such deep misunderstanding of sexual assault by industry advocates.

SafePlace are insistent that rape has no singular archetype of victim. Numbers show that younger women in college are highly targeted; however, fixating on one “target” group only fuels victim-blaming within a jury pool. Spotlighting a singular victimology causes jurors to latch on to that one ideal while forsaking survivors who fall outside of that definition. This is especially problematic for queer survivors, male survivors, and people of color, because these groups don’t fit with the cookie-cutter image of what a “victim” looks like.
— “A Safe Place”, Austin Chronicle. Sept 25, 2015

Anyone can be a victim of sexual assault. It’s our responsibility as a society to ensure we aren’t creating a false sense of security by touting that any single policy is going to suddenly protect everyone. In Austin, where we’ve yet to see any arrests or convictions of a Ridesharing driver due to sexual assault allegations, we have to ask ourselves, “What problem are we trying to fix?”

Any regulation by Austin’s City Council should not, in purpose or effect, favor one group of competitors over another. If there are no significant or measurable gains to public safety by requiring fingerprinting, then any regulations which increase inefficiencies do NOT have the consumer’s best interests in mind. They are purely anti-competitive in nature, and they seek to maintain the old status quo.

We listened to Art Acevedo, Austin police chief, declare that fingerprinting isn’t any safer than name-based checks. After much prodding by the City Council, he also mentioned how incredibly detrimental it would be for the Council to take any action to make Lyft or Uber leave Austin. It made no difference.

What else in the ordinance could be anti-competitive?

Luckily, the Federal Trade Commission has provided some policy guidance via advocacy letters on the topic of Rideshare rules to jurisdictions around the country, including Chicago, Colorado, and Washington, D.C. The FTC consistently emphasizes avoiding unwarranted restrictions on competition to no broader than necessary to address legitimate subjects of regulation. Let’s take an item-by-item look through the ordinance, and see if we can balance protecting the consumer’s safety as well as the consumer’s interest.

Definition of Terms

The ordinance seeks to create general language to discuss Ridesharing. The first term, “Dynamic Pricing”, is defined as “a software application or other method used to maximize the supply of available drivers…” with no mention of price or it’s changes. This definition seems unnecessarily broad, as there can be non-financial methods of maximizing the supply of available vehicles, like assigning upcoming rides to drivers before that driver has completed their current trip. Under the new ordinance, the Ridesharing industry’s recent innovations designed to increase both driver availability and utilization would be classified as Dynamic Pricing. (Later, we see Dynamic Pricing mentioned in connection with increased fares.)

Next, the ordinance defines a Transportation Network Company as an “organization[…] which provides on-demand transportation services for compensation using an online-enabled application or platform to connect passengers with drivers.” According to their website, “Flywheel is a mobile platform for the taxi industry that connects passengers with licensed, high-quality drivers. The Flywheel mobile app allows passengers to order taxi rides in real-time, track arrival via GPS and automatically pay their fare via their smartphone device.”

Flywheel’s on-demand taxi app appears to fit the ordinance’s definition.

Due to the rushed process in writing these requirements, it’s understandable that there would be some errors. This shows at it’s best shortsightedness by the legislators writing Austin’s ordinances, and at it’s worst an active move by the Council to build further competition stifling protections for Austin’s existing ground transportation services.

Penalties

We heard the Mayor and several City Council Members repeat that they take up discussion on penalties for non-compliance with the regulations later and that there were no penalties in the ordinance. However, here we see several penalties.

  1. Any entity that meets the definition of a TNC and operates in violation commits a Class C Misdemeanor. (section 13–2–510)
  2. Automatic suspension of a TNC’s operating authority for failure to submit required data within 15 days of the deadline.
  3. Any vehicle used as a TNC vehicle that has unpaid taxes assessed may not operate on City streets.
  4. If the criminal background check indicates that a person has been convicted of certain offenses, “to be specified by separate ordinance”, that person is prohibited from driving for a TNC.
  5. TNCs that fail to meet the city’s fingerprint timeline shall be subject to penalties “established by separate ordinance”
  6. “ In addition to criminal penalties, any TNC driver who provides rides 15 without using the TNC digital application shall face suspension of 16 their chauffeur permit.” (Which is weird, because chauffeur licenses are not required for Ridesharing drivers.)
  7. Any TNC not participating in the cities “Safety Assurance Program” shall pay an additional fee equivalent to 1% of the company’s annual gross revenue.

TNC Local Presence Required

This section requires a local presence which includes:

  1. An active website.
  2. 24-hour customer service number.
  3. Email address.

I’m not sure how any of these things create a local presence, or what benefit to consumers a local presence would require. Additionally, for a tiny startup (say one with 6 employees and 60 drivers) that would like to start TNC service in Austin, a 24-hour customer service number seems to create a barrier to launching. Furthermore, do we really want to be writing communication methods into our city code? Amazon’s Mayday button allows folks to get support for certain devices via live video chat with a customer service representative in 15 seconds or less. No numbers needed. Does this requirement ensure a competitive marketplace? And what is it attempting to solve?

Ordinances need to be written with future technological advances in mind.

Dynamic Pricing

This is a holdover from the 2014 ordinance but still needs to be addressed. During periods of “abnormal market disruptions” dynamic pricing is prohibited, which includes any change in the ground transportation market resulting from weather, earthquakes, power outages, strike, civil disorder, war, military action, national or local emergency, or the declaration of a state of emergency by the governor.

Demand for rides increases when it’s rainy. Princeton economist Henry Farber studied this phenomenon in taxicabs in NYC. When it rains, he observed that demand increased occupancy by 4.8%, however, there was a 7.1% drop in available supply. “Some drivers stop [driving] simply because it is less pleasant to drive in the rain,” according to Farber, “and there is no additional benefit in continuing to drive.”

Demand Pricing efficiently allocates resources (vehicles and drivers) to consumers, particularly during times of peak demand. It provides that additional benefit missing from the traditional taxi model in driving in less than desirable conditions. Lyft already caps their demand pricing, known as Prime Time, at a level that they’re comfortable with charging.

However, all artificial price ceilings create supply shortages in a market, and Lyft does have times where we run out of drivers. It’s very rare, but I’ve seen it happen. For some consumers, they may want to get a ride with another service, albeit at a higher price, and they should have that option. They should also have the option, of course, to wait 10 minutes and eat a taco. Prices always come back down.

In the FTC’s advisory letter to Chicago about their proposed restrictions to demand pricing, they recommended that, without some specific evidence that a particular pricing model will harm consumers, “the ordinance should clearly allow for greater flexibility and experimentation in structuring fees in order to facilitate innovative forms of pricing that may benefit consumers.”

Although this section of the Austin ordinance may have the intent of protecting consumers undertones, it restricts innovative pricing models during times when they may very well be needed the most. Removing a driver’s incentives to give rides during the most critical times certainly seems like a restriction that would harm consumers.

Data Reporting Requirements

This section begins with an explanation that reporting requirements exist in the ordinance for the purpose of supporting public safety and transportation planning including prevention of DWIs. It seems odd, that none of the other sections include this notice. Once again, this claim serves as a red flag that regulators may be hiding by the facade of consumer protection while attempting to enact code to hinder competition, but… let’s take a closer look.

We see requirements that the TNCs provide operational data to the city and little explanation of why (aside from a comment from Transportation Dept. staff about how they like data). Requirements include:

In 4-hour blocks, submitted to the Transportation Dept Director on the last day of the month:

  1. Number of trips requested
  2. Number of trips requested, but not completed, by zip code
  3. Number of vehicles logged onto the platform
  4. Number of pick-ups and drop-offs, by zip code
  5. Number of accessible vehicle trips requested and serviced
  6. Number of accessible vehicle trips requested and not serviced
  7. Amount of time that “surge pricing” is in effect

In daily totals, submitted to the Transportation Dept Director on the last day of the month:

  • Driver hours logged onto the platform

In monthly totals, reported to the Transportation Dept Director on the last day of the month:

  1. Number of trips completed and passengers transported.
  2. Gross receipts generated.
  3. Progress on meeting the accessibility needs of the public.
  4. Total hours driven and miles driven by drivers that have completed the fingerprint-based background check and total hours and miles of all drivers.

On a daily basis, reported to the Transportation Dept Director every Monday:

  • All accident reports involving a vehicle in service and operating through the TNC platform.

Now, I’m not sure why there’s a mention of surge pricing in the ordinance, but I’ll assume regulators intended to refer to Demand Pricing.

Do we really need 4 different reporting timetables for TNCs when there’s just one for Taxi franchises? Once again, we have a relevant opinion from the FTC on these requirements.

“As a preliminary matter, the City Council might consider whether this information is needed and, if so, for what purposes. In particular, the City Council should consider if there is any justification for establishing different data collection requirements for TNPs and other types of passenger motor vehicle transportation services. Data collection and reporting requirements can impose significant costs on TNPs and the commissioner should carefully evaluate the costs and benefits of specific requirements, as well as the availability of less burdensome means of serving any public purpose.” — FTC Advisory Letter to Chicago’s City Council

The FTC goes on to caution the city to take care to not publicly disclose operational information because it can facilitate collusion among service providers resulting in harm to consumers, such as higher prices, decreased output, decreased quality, or reduced innovation. “Any operational information, should be treated as confidential business information.”

Accessible Vehicle Service

Most of this section is entirely redundant to the requirements of the Americans with Disability Act. However, the first item mentions that if a TNC has an existing accessibility plan on file in another jurisdiction, the TNC must use that plan in Austin.

I certainly believe that everyone should be able to get a ride with Lyft. Nonetheless, Austin has unique challenges. It’s very presumptuous to assume that a plan that worked in another city will be a perfect fit for Austin.

Geofencing & Travel Lanes

Geofencing creates an opportunity for city staff to restrict pick-up and drop-off locations during special events. The ordinance once again sites “promoting safety” without any examples of how city staff would like to implement geofencing. The Council would be prudent to consider if the effect of this restriction, whether intended or not, creates inefficiency in pickups and dropoffs or restricts the flexibility of Ridesharing apps to provide door-to-door service.

There’s also a restriction on where TNC drivers may stop their vehicles. Texas Transportation Code Section 545.302 covers this in depth. It’s unnecessary, redundant regulation.

Inspections

Before a vehicle can be used on a TNC platform, a driver will need to have their vehicle inspected again by a state-certified mechanic that’s received additional approval by the Austin Transportation department, to perform state inspections. There’s no reason that the DPS certified vehicle safety inspectors need to be specially approved by the Austin Transportation Department. This will only reduce the number of available “ATD approved” safety inspectors.

The ordinance requires that inspections stickers be displayed on each vehicle. Texas recently got rid of the required state inspection stickers when House Bill 2305 took effect on March 1st, 2015. The state bill was written in cooperation with the DMV, DPS, and the Commission on Environmental Quality. Why did they want to move to the new 1 sticker process?

  • One sticker, one date. The simplicity of having vehicle registration and inspections done at the same time was a common complaint from citizens.
  • Less clutter, better view. That’s right. For safety.
  • Safer streets, cleaner air. Inspections are a prerequisite for registration renewal, so more folks are incentivized to complete an inspection.
  • Fraud prevention. Eliminated the risk of inspection sticker fraud and theft.

…now what?

We stop the bleeding. Repeal this misguided ordinance. If we need any changes to the rules that have protected Austinites since October 2014, let us ensure that we’re making only necessary changes.

“Regulations should not in purpose or effect favor one group of competitors over another or impose unnecessary burdens on applications or drivers that impede their ability to compete without any justification that benefits the public interest.” — Federal Trade Commission Staff Comments to Chicago City Council (2014)

We do what Austinites do best. We find an innovative solution to our society’s challenges. Do I believe that Austin has room for Ridesharing, Taxicabs, Buses, Limos, Carpooling Apps, the Dillo, Gondolas, and whatever else might be in our future? Absolutely! We all agree that we need every option to meet customer demand.

Last month, the Wall Street journal released an article highlighting that nearly 1,000 people applied for a San Francisco taxi license in the 2015 fiscal year, more than any other year on record. This may seem surprising, but it’s the natural effects of a market adjusting to a new entrant. Initially, when Ridesharing took off in San Francisco, taxi demand declined and the industry was feeling the pain. However, as ridesharing is maturing, some drivers realized that they enjoyed driving and wanted to become a professional driver.

“There is a stigma attached to taxi cab driving. But Uber and Lyft have created a lot more people who would now consider driving as a way to make money,” says Hansu Kim, owner of the Flywheel taxi fleet.

Lyft never set out to build a better taxi. They’re on a mission to fill the empty seats in our cars. They’ve created a system where ridesharing (or carpooling) actually works.

There are 300,000 Austinites that drive alone to and from work everyday. In the 2015 Zandan Poll, 86% of Austinites believe that Austin’s biggest issues are traffic and the rising cost of living. Yet even the most conservative estimates project that Austin’s population will double in the next 15 years.

Two years ago, the Texas Transportation Institute at Texas A&M released a study on I-35 which estimated that driving from downtown Austin to Round Rock during evening commute will take over 3 hours. I refuse to accept that fate. ‪

Let’s ensure Austin stays a leader in technology and transportation. The world’s eyes are on us.