Jeff — I fail to understand why you continue to make false and accusatory comments to honorable…
Andy Tryba
91

Andy — I appreciate the detailed response. As I stated both last month and at the beginning of this week’s piece, I had (and have) no intents of making “false and accusatory comments to honorable members of our Austin community.” To quote my exact words: “At no point did I intend to impugn either RideAustin itself or anyone involved with the company…”

That said, I clearly made accusations of this nature in my latest piece. A number of them were based on things I’ve been told secondhand, albeit by at least two independent sources; given your response, I’ve edited each of those sections to note your responses as well as the fact that I did not personally witness said actions. To address some of your more specific comments:

“Marisa had led groups of drivers around Sixth Street” — this is simply inaccurate. Marisa hasn’t been to 6th St in years and certainly is not leading a mob.

To clarify, I did not at all intend to infer anything along the lines of “Marisa leading angry mobs through downtown” or her going out “partying on Sixth.” The occurrence as described to me involved a group of RideAustin drivers who went down to Sixth Street on one of the first weekends following Uber’s and Lyft’s return simply as a marketing effort — much like Austin’s startup TNCs did last summer when they first opened up shop — with the purpose of reminding folks that RideAustin is the only “local TNC” and treats drivers considerably better than Uber or Lyft. However, the situation got out of hand after some of the drivers in group — and no, I don’t know how many, aside from “more than a couple” — spotted drivers picking up or dropping off passengers on behalf of Uber or Lyft, and began verbally harassing them for being “disloyal.”

Further, someone who recognized Marisa stated that she was out with the driver group that night. I have no knowledge one way or the other whether she witnessed, or was even made aware of, the alleged harassment of competing-TNC drivers. Finally, I have no reason not to believe your assertions about her credentials, including accepting the COO job at RideAustin despite being able to command a salary several times larger at a for-profit entity, so I apologize for any confusion in that regard.

[I]t’s been an honor to get to know so many of our Austin community drivers … and I’ve seen nothing that shows me that there is an underlying culture of hatred.

I’m not sure how you concluded I was making such a broad generalization, but I absolutely did NOT intend to do so, nor do I believe I stated anything even vaguely inferring it. Further, I clearly said as much: “I am by no means accusing RideAustin drivers on whole of acting in an unacceptable fashion.” Further still, I explicitly stated my concern that RideAustin’s recent actions could prove deleterious “particularly among its genuinely good-hearted drivers who’ve continued working for them out of respect for its honorable overall mission.”

Implying that RideAustin did not have non-profit legal guidance — this is simply incorrect.

I never said RideAustin didn’t have nonprofit legal guidance. I questioned whether it had sufficient legal guidance. Further, most of my comments in this regard stemmed directly from remarks made by my mother, someone who a) graduated in the top 3% of her class at UT Law; b) served as managing partner of her law firm until retiring a few years ago; and c) has been the treasurer and executive administrator of one of the largest women’s philanthropy groups in the nation for nearly a decade. Despite my obvious bias, I’m pretty sure she knows her stuff.

Also, I’ll note that the Texas Monthly article went into considerably greater detail than I did about RideAustin’s nonprofit status — so in essence you’re questioning the salient remarks of a brilliant lawyer and the most highly lauded regional periodical in America. Finally, you have yet to post your 990 form, despite repeated requests on my part and others, and with no stated explanation.

Free rides to doctors for underserved community — this (and many more we’ve been working along these lines) has been in the works for over 6 months.

Okay, on this one I decided to take your word at face value, and I deleted the section of my article about the topic entirely.

Price sensitivity of rideshare — your notion that price sensitivity isn’t one of the top purchase criteria of rideshare is incorrect…

I’m sorry, Andy, but every bit of evidence I’ve seen thus far contradicts your assertion — and no, I don’t mean the Levitt paper. Just to cite the most recent example: despite RideAustin’s “no surge” weekend, Uber was in surge mode for most of it, and even hit a 4.5x surge multiple on Saturday night. And yes, I saw it firsthand. I’m guessing you don’t have access to any of the “TNC drivers only” local Facebook groups, but it’s become practically routine the past two months for drivers to post screencaps of Uber, Lyft and even Fasten at a given day and time, along with a RideAustin one taken simultaneously. Suffice it to say they’re not flattering (and they’re all tangible proof contradicting your assertion).

Finally, you appear to have misinterpreted one of the Levitt paper’s main points: Uber passengers would be willing to pay surge-level prices to use it even outside of surge periods. That is the reason it had $6.8 billion in consumer surplus in 2015, not because it was “undercharging for surges” or something. I’d suggest perhaps listening to Levitt’s podcast on the topic to develop more clarity on the subject.

P.S. While I do genuinely appreciate your response, your lack of response to a number of points I brought up is telling. Here’s a list of everything RideAustin hasn’t disclosed as of today:

  • Its ridership data for the 5–6 week period since posting your own Medium article, detailing RideAustin’s surprise drop in ridership in the first and second weeks following Uber’s and Lyft’s return
  • Your IRS 990 form for the previous fiscal year (which many, or most, nonprofits post in a prominent location on their websites)
  • An explanation for why active RideAustin drivers have been deactivated from the platform allegedly on the sole basis of them questioning the company’s leadership or requesting one or both of the previous items
  • Any formal legal analysis addressing the issues raised about its nonprofit status. To quote Texas Monthly’s summation: “RideAustin isn’t a typical nonprofit because it competes with for-profit firms. That could endanger its tax-exempt status because of something called the ‘commerciality doctrine,’ which the courts use to determine whether a nonprofit organization is operating exclusively for tax-exempt purposes. Besides competing against commercial firms, another factor is whether a nonprofit uses paid professional staff.”
  • In line with the previous bullet: a breakdown of how much of RideAustin’s $7 million in funding was spent on paid professional staff (in other words, Crossover) as opposed to nonprofit-specific endeavors
  • An explanation for why RideAustin hasn’t continued to seek out potential sources of outside funding — as nearly all nonprofits do — given the claims made by both you and Marisa that you knew all along that Uber and Lyft would be back (and while you may have underestimated the extent to which your revenue would be immediately impacted, this doesn’t explain your failure to at least consider the possibility that you’d require external funds on top of ride-generated revenue to continue operations)
  • My own requested analysis regarding one of the biggest unknowns in ridesharing: the comparative value of fingerprint-based background checks versus electronic checks. This may very well be the most important question, from a public-policy perspective, that RideAustin can answer — and it may literally be the only entity anywhere with the necessary data to generate an accurate answer. While I understand why you didn’t want to provide such data before HB 100 passed, I’m not seeing any rational reason for withholding it now.
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