Lyft set to bring ridesharing to Austin despite city regulations

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin’s tangled transportation web is starting to unravel. A ridesharing program that has been at the center of debate is officially launching here in Austin, despite regulations against it.

“Lyft coming and launching in Austin is a good thing long-term for the city,” said Joseph Kopser, CEO of RideScout. “Because Austinites have more options for travel.”

The popular ridesharing app officially became available in Austin at 7 p.m Thursday. The company is offering 50 free rides to each customer who signs up in the city.

“People need options that are safe, legal and reliable and they need transparency to know the price and the time. And once people do that, they might actually give up driving their own car,” said Kopser.

IN-DEPTH | Who are Lyft drivers?

Lyft requires drivers to meet the following requirements

  • At least 23 years old
  • Own a working car (2000 or newer)
  • Own an iPhone or Android
  • Pass phone screening
  • Pass an in-person interview
  • Pass a background check
  • Pass a DMV check

“Lyft is quick, it’s a lot cheaper,” said Krystal Tsosie, a Vanderbilt student visiting Austin. “It’s definitely more preferred.”

Earlier this month the Austin City Council agreed to work with the city manager as they try to come up with a pilot program to authorize such ridesharing programs.

So far however, they are technically illegal cab services.

The city even went so far as to remind drivers who are being paid to provide rides without a proper permit could be ticketed and have their cars impounded.

Cab drivers are fighting to keep ridesharing from coming to Austin.

“I think if the city allows them to do that somebody needs to go to jail,” said Rob Means, general manager of Austin Cab Company. “The reason I’m mad is that the city has the habit of allowing people to break the law in order to change the law. We pay all these franchise fees, we are law-abiding and have rules and regulation.”

But Lyft says the community asked them to come, and they’re just answering that call. They’re having an official event on Rainey Street this Friday to signal the start of its app program that’s essentially a for-profit carpool with a rating system.

The Austin Transportation Department on Thursday released a statement saying it is willing to work with these so-called Transportation Network Companies.

“The Austin Transportation Department’s role is to enforce the Austin City Code, and as the Code is written today when a driver is paid to provide ground transportation services, the providing company must be permitted and the driver must have chauffeur’s permit.  ATD is currently working on a process to engage transportation stakeholders in order to make a recommendation to the City Council about a possible pilot program to see how transportation network companies could possibly operate in Austin.  We look forward to that process and working with the community to see what works best for Austin.”

In response to the launch the boss of Yellow Cab Austin, the largest cab service in town sent out this response:

“Transportation Network Companies choosing to launch illegal operations shows a complete lack of respect for the City of Austin. We strongly advise everyone to ask for proof of commercial insurance before using any illegal service.

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