What the Country Can Learn from Austin’s Fight Against Uber

After the company left, local replacements like Ride Austin thrived, proving that you can have ridesharing without Uber.

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After the company left, local replacements like Ride Austin thrived, proving that you can have ridesharing without Uber.

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Real-time ride sharing got its start in the 1990s, but really took off toward the mid-to-late 2000 as technology and means of communication improved. This modern type of transportation allows people to get a ride to and from pretty much anywhere in a matter of minutes. The rides are also relatively cheap, providing a less expensive and faster means of transportation as compared to the traditional taxi cab. In 2009, Uber, the most successful rideshare company to date, opened its doors. By 2012, people were ordering cars through their app and in non-taxi vehicles. Many companies have followed in Uber’s footsteps, offering a rideshare service through an app, increasing the popularity of this new type of ridesharing.

With Uber’s huge boom of success came a new era of modern ridesharing technology that brought many benefits along with it. People used to depend on taxis, which can be pricey and slow, or friends, who can be unreliable and difficult to ask for too many favors. Now, new rideshare technology allows people to pull out their phones and have a car ready to take them anywhere quickly. In addition to convenience, with this easily accessible new form of rideshare comes huge safety and health benefits. First, fewer people driving themselves means less pollution coming from cars. Second, less pressure to drive yourself to and from means a decrease in drunk driving and safer roads for everyone. Soon after Uber took off,  the company expanded across the U.S. and worldwide. Noting the huge success, cities began to take matters into their own hands, and many versions of Uber-style companies were started at a local level. However, at this point, Uber was already thriving, and local companies had a difficult time competing.

Unfortunately, the rise of personal ridesharing meant the decline of business going to taxi companies, leaving many drivers very upset. In Austin, Texas, taxi drivers are required by law to go through a certain screening process and background check while Uber drivers were not held to the same standards. In 2016, when Uber refused to comply with the same standards required by the city of Austin, Uber and similar companies were forced to leave. This decision left many in despair because people relied on such services to get around, as they are much faster than a city bus and much cheaper than a traditional taxi.

Despite the many concerns of Austin citizens, the city’s local companies stepped up to the plate and filled the gap that Uber left in its absence. Local startups like Ride Austin expanded their business by accepting the terms that Uber refused, and their bottom line skyrocketed. The situation in Austin is representative of many across the country, and even the world, showing that big business is not necessary for success and convenience. After a short adjustment period, most Austin citizens, myself included, did not miss Uber at all.

Image via West 6th Street

After almost a year of success without Uber, a decision by the Texas government has overridden the city of Austin’s decision to ban Uber, and soon the company will be returning. This news left many working for local startups very concerned about the future and their jobs. Uber’s return to the city brings back the risk of local businesses being outrun by big businesses. Would people rather support their city, or save a few bucks and possibly a few minutes? Wasn’t the whole point of ride services like these to get a ride as fast and as cheap as possible?

Uber was the first real successful company of its type, and, to give it credit, it did in fact start out as a local company. However, its huge success has now allowed for worldwide expansion. Uber’s prices are so low that people often question how the company stays in business at all. The company has also done so much to help out with driver safety by giving those who should not be behind a wheel a way to get home. However, Uber is no longer the same small, local company, and as big business seems to be taking over the world we live in today, it seems more important than ever to support the local businesses our city has to offer.

In Uber’s absence, Ride Austin got the chance to do what many other local companies never get the chance to doshow both the citizens of Austin and the rest of the world the real power of a local business. Without the looming competition of a worldwide company, they sent a message to the rest of the world that big isn’t always better. Having just moved to Austin, I was accustomed to taking Ubers and was worried about a low-functioning, local company. What I encountered was nothing of the sort.

Because it was a smaller company to begin with, Ride Austin’s rates were slightly higher and the wait time was occasionally a few minutes longer. However, what they lacked in efficiency, they made up for in quality. All of the drivers were wonderful at communicating with their riders about anything that would cause them to delay their arrival. They were also all nice, clean and happy to share their knowledge of the city, as most of them were locals. In a moment of forgetfulness one night, I left my wallet in a driver’s car. The next day her son reached out to me, and drove across the city just to bring it back to me. Service like this is what big businesses lack. Uber may be fast and cheap, but local businesses like Ride Austin have a touch of human interaction and heart that can only be found in a business run by locals, who truly care about their city and their residents.

While many thought that Austin was taking a positive stand against Uber that could catch on in other cities, they were unfortunately cut short by overriding legislation. However, Ride Austin is not giving up just yet. They have lowered their rates to match big competitors, like Uber, and are urging their citizens to support the locally owned business. Even if we cannot ban big business for good, hopefully the citizens of Austin will rally around the local startup, and set an example for the rest of the world. It cannot be urged enough how important local business are for the success of a city. They also give back to the communities, and are a key to their prosperity. No one takes care of locals better than locals themselves.

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