Uber unveils Austin mobility study ahead of proposed regulations

Uber app (KXAN Photo)
Uber app (KXAN Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Uber launched in Austin in June 2014, in a pilot project but before and since then, there have been several long nights at city council meetings discussing how the transportation network company should be regulated in the City of Austin.

On Monday, Uber unveiled its Austin Mobility Case Study that examines Uber’s impact in Austin. According to the study, in one year alone, Uber coordinated more than 2.5 million rides in the Austin-area and the average wait time for an Uber ride is three minutes and one second.

91 percent of Uber drivers surveyed cited “earn[ing] more income to better support myself or my family” as a major reason for working with Uber.

Austin native Dionne Williams puts herself in the same category.

“I was needing a little extra income, so I figured I would try it,” Williams said.

The study comes just a few weeks after Uber committed to hiring 5,000 drivers in East Austin. Williams, is actually one of those drivers. The company says the goal is to create more jobs in East Austin and improve access to the service.

In a city where the current traffic fatality rate is expected to surpass the 1986 all-time high of 81 traffic fatalities, many proponents of ride-sharing say transportation network companies help reduce the number of traffic fatalities.

“Uber helps reduce drunk driving, making roads safer not just for riders and drivers on the Uber platform, but also for other drivers and pedestrians as well,” according to the study. Uber is still waiting on more Austin data to determine the correlation between Uber and a drop in alcohol-related driving fatalities. Researchers estimate that Uber’s entrance into “various markets in California over the course of several years caused an approximate 5 percent drop in alcohol-related driving fatalities.”

On Wednesday, the Mobility Committee is expected to discuss implementing various regulations for transportation network companies (TNCs), such as: $1 fee for every ride that would go to the city, minimum insurance coverage, DPS certified background checks for drivers, and fingerprinting.

Mobility Committee Chair, Ann Kitchen, explained that currently, every other public mode of transportation in Austin is required to pay set fees. Additionally, all public drivers are subjected to fingerprinting.

Council Member Don Zimmerman’s desired approach is different.

“Let’s deregulate the taxis and the limousines so they can compete in the free market and let the market decide what security and background checks are necessary,” Zimmerman said.

Another point Zimmerman brought up, is the lack of public desire he’s heard for any TNC regulations.

“If the constituents send hundreds of email messages to us, and they show up, and they really want something done on STR (short-term rental) regulations, they’re CALLING for the council to take action. That simply is not the case with TNCs. There is no grassroots constituent demand for us to go and increase regulation on the TNCs,” Zimmerman said.

Kitchen told KXAN she is interested in any procedure done in a way that’s “barrier-free” and as least problematic as possible.

Once the committee approves any regulations, the item will then move to the Austin City Council for a vote.


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