City will explore future of ridesharing in Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austinites asked for more ways to get home safe after a night out, now city council is looking at adding ridesharing to the mix.

The council agreed Thursday to have the city manager work with stakeholders to develop a pilot program authorizing the use of transportation network companies, more commonly known as ridesharing.

Currently it’s illegal for companies like Uber, Lyft and SideCar to operate within city limits. These businesses offer apps and websites that connect people with drivers offering rides in personal cars.

Council also approved a resolution to find short-term and long-term solutions to better meet taxi demands. They also passed a resolution asking staff to put late-night transportation options on the city website.

Last week City Council Member Chris Riley agreed that Austin is having a tough time meeting demands for taxi cab services. This has opened the door for ridesharing companies to operate in the city. The vote comes in large part by Uber’s recent push for operating rights.

“There is some confusion today,” Riley said at the meeting, “that the resolution before us would just open the floodgates and they’d be out there operating without any regulation. That is not what this resolution does . All this resolution does is to get a stakeholder process going.”

Currently one of the few ride sharing services allowed in the city is Carma Carpooling, because it doesn’t make any profits.

People in the taxi industry are concerned that adding extra options could hurt the business.

“The current proposal will make it nearly impossible for taxi cab drivers to support a family or merely earn a living wage,” said cab driver Daniel Piper.

“Every place that Uber has been has pretty much decimated the taxi industry,” said Ron Means, general manager for Austin Cab Company and Black Car Services. Means, who has worked in the industry for more than 30 years, believes ridesharing can be dangerous and more expensive.

“The people that are driving those cars have not been vetted, they haven’t verified their criminal history,” Means said. “They’re overcharging people.”

Yellow Cab Austin president Ed Kargbo says he’s happy to hear city leaders are considering safety, because he says rideshare companies wont.

“They don’t report accidents to the city, they don’t share their trip data, and they don’t provide wheelchair accessible service,” Kargbo said. “They promise one thing, and the proof is in the pudding. What they put in writing protects their behinds.”

A number of supporters at the city council meeting spoke up to say the more options, the better.

“Making sure that more people have more access to transportation that’s not their own single use vehicle is always a good thing,” said Eric Goths.

The proposal would begin a pilot program with the companies and use them during peak hours.

“Sitting down at the table with transportation networking companies like Uber and Lyft, as well as taxi cab services so that we can figure out how those services will work in tandem,” Riley said.

Talk of alternative means of transportation has recently been front and center in Austin in light of a recent spike in drunk driving crashes. Last week Police Chief Art Acevedo stressed the need for more taxis.

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