If you live in Texas, you’re no stranger to the fact that the majority of the cities are pretty much impossible to live in without a car, since public transit is a little behind.
Driving isn’t the worst thing in the world, so why should anyone care? Well, let’s add going out into the equation. Now let’s add alcohol. You go out to a show, drink, discover new music, and then to get home you do what? If you’re in any other city other than Austin, most answers include Uber or Lyft.
Wait, other than Austin?
Well… Austin’s got a big problem. Reliable rideshare pretty much does not exist within city limits.
Back in 2015 and 2016, Austin’s city council decided it was mandatory for all rideshare drivers to undergo a mandatory background check that included fingerprinting. Lyft and Uber both do their own background checks when hiring drivers and felt the additional fingerprinting was unnecessary and a potential roadblock for hiring new drivers.
As a response to the new law, Lyft and Uber temporarily suspended all operations in the area, pending a vote on Proposition 1, which would overturn this new law. 56% of residents in the area decided it was not worth overturning, sealing the fate for national rideshare companies in Austin.
As a result of this law, Lyft and Uber have not operated in Austin since 2016, but are not banned from opening up shop. Neither company feels the extra criminal background is necessary or just and have expressed no interest in returning to the market under the current circumstances.
Well, that’s not too bad, right? People can just, you know, take taxi cabs like they did before the Uber boom. WRONG.
In 2016, there were 915 taxi cab permits in the city of Austin. Let’s extrapolate that data. Austin has a population over 931,000 people, and approximately 70% of the population is between 21 and 70.
That’s over 650,000 people who could potentially go out drinking and need a rideshare to safely get home.
Let’s be fair and narrow it down even further and only look at those aged 18-44. They make up approximately 50% of the population. So, we’re looking at a general population of 465,500 people who would maybe go out. Let’s say only 3% of that segment goes out on a Friday night. That’s still about 14,000 people trying to drink responsibly and find a ride home – in a city where there are only 915 taxi cab licenses, and not all 915 are working at 2 AM when bars close.
Enter: mass chaos.
Imagine being stuck on Dirty Sixth, presumably very drunk after a show, and there’s no cabs in sight because the other 10,000 people who were over served that night already took them. That dude who cut you off in line at the bar? He took the last yellow cab, too. Fuck him.
Right after the immediate pull out of Uber and Lyft, a lot of improvisation occurred. Intoxicated individuals were hitchhiking off of Sixth with unlicensed drivers in unmarked civilian cars in exchange for Venmo payments or cash offers. I’m not ashamed – I did it. Shout out to “Mariah – 6th driver” still saved in my phone contacts driving her 2013 Escalade. She got me and my roommate home many a-times and she let us eat pizza in her car.
But this is the exact problem the city was trying to prevent – making rides safer for civilians. I don’t know about you, but getting in an Uber where some background check occurred is a lot safer than throwing a thumb up and jumping in the first car that slows down enough that you can match its pace at a light jog in heels.
Following the Uber and Lyft pull out, the drunk citizens of Austin improvised. They made a 30,000 person Facebook group where members would post their pick-up and drop off location, to which they would be messaged a quote, cell phone number, and car model. Seems legit.
I visited Austin during this time frame – and while it was essentially a makeshift Uber platform, we didn’t have the protection the big companies provided with cell phone number protection. So Marvin, our driver, was texting us repeatedly at 3 AM asking to ‘hang out’ and he had our address. YIKES.
Alternative rideshare apps have definitely attempted to fill the void; Ride Austin, Fasten, and Fare have all played ball with the new logistics and require their drivers to get fingerprint based background checks. However, these are smaller apps with a lot of bugs and often fail when there is an overload of usage – like they did at SXSW this past year. All the 6th Street nightlife attendees were stranded in the rain with no way to contact drivers.
Back to Venmo haggles and Mariah.
With the absence of a reliable rideshare, Austin has seen a significant rise in drunk driving arrests and accidents.
Via the Foundation for Economic Education:
Within the first few months of Uber and Lyft’s absence, the number of DUI arrests increased by 7.5 percent from the previous year. In the month of July alone, the city had 476 drunk driving arrests.
This leads music lovers and bar patrons to make the difficult decision: go to the show and be stranded indefinitely, or forgo going out all together – which ultimately just hurts the culture and nightlife scene of such vibrant city.
I’m all about keeping business and companies local and private, but Austin’s city government needs to work this out, if for anything, the safety of its community.
Go out tonight, and any night. Jukely is a concert subscription that gives members guestlist access to hundreds of music events – for one price. Whenever you want to go out, you’ll always have something to do. Learn more and sign up at jukely.com.