AUSTIN (KXAN) — Beginning Tuesday, “Get Me” will become Austin’s newest rideshare option. Get Me’s model business model is offering a ride and even a delivery service. According to the company’s website, their drivers can “get you something or take you somewhere, all at the tap of a button.”
Get Me began its personal delivery service in Austin back on October 1, and just obtained a transportation networking company (TNC) permit December 4.
The announcement comes just days ahead of a City Council decision that could determine the fate of fellow rideshare companies like Uber and Lyft. Both could pull out of the market if certain regulations pass. Namely, one requiring drivers to go through a fingerprint background check. Uber and Lyft have called the public safety measure an unnecessary burden that deters drivers, saying there are more effective and efficient ways to conduct a background check.
“The reality is that the two most experienced and successful companies have found that not only do they have a better way to run background checks and ensure that the public is safe, but a mandatory fingerprint requirement has been so burdensome to potential drivers that it has caused an inability for them to appropriately respond to the demand in the market. So, I worry that the new company will come up against that same barrier. Even if they’re willing to do a mandatory fingerprint requirement, that may not translate in their ability to fill the gap in the market,” Council Member Ellen Troxclair said.
Council Member Ann Kitchen continues to stand by proposed regulations, calling it a matter of public safety. She says it’s not the city’s job to protect a company’s business model.
“We welcome all TNCs [transportation network companies]. It’s the TNCs choice whether they stay here or not,” Kitchen said. “All TNCs are welcome to accept the public safety requirements that the city decides are important.”
Kitchen has been the subject of Uber campaigns that attack her proposed regulations and viewpoint. In a news release dated November 5, Uber’s Texas spokesperson, Debbee Hancock said, “Councilmember Kitchen’s plan would impose 19 Century regulations on 21st Century technology…Uber has improved mobility for half a million people in Austin, but Councilmember Kitchen’s proposal would take Austin backwards and eliminate this reliable transportation option.”
Get Me has already agreed to comply with whatever regulations the city puts forward, including fingerprint background checks, a method city staff recently recommended in a memo to Council.
KXAN’s Kylie McGivern: “What was your general sense when you received that memo?”
Troxclair: “My general sense is, I’m excited that we have new companies that are interested in getting into the market, but I worry when the government starts to pick winners and losers. Which seems to be what’s happening in this case.”
In a sit down interview with Get Me’s Chief Experience Officer, Jonathan Laramy, told KXAN, “We don’t understand how you can say we want to be safe, but on the flip side of that, you know, basically we are against fingerprinting.”
Kylie: “So their argument [Uber, Lyft] that this creates a barrier for drivers you are, say, only part time, you all don’t really buy that argument.”
Laramy: “No. Not if the process is set up simple and it’s not cost prohibitive for the driver. And in working and talking with folks in the city of Austin, those things are on top of mind for them as well. So we think there’s not going to be any issue there.”
Get Me plans to relocate its headquarters from Dallas to Austin in 2016, and Laramy told KXAN plans to expand to the rideshare market were in place well before Uber and Lyft threatened to pull out. In fact, Get Me launched its multi-purpose app in 4 cities in 84 days. A launch in San Antonio is next on the list, January 14th.
“We really hope that doesn’t happen. I think it’s great to have multiple options. But if that was to happen, we’ve already thought about it and we have a plan in place to, you know, make sure that the city of Austin is taken care of,” Laramy said.
When we asked for specifics of how an upcoming company like Get Me could tackle the magnitude of the Austin market if it were suddenly to become the only TNC, he said, “I can tell you that right now we have about 300 drivers. But because we didn’t have the rideshare portion done of all the other services that we offer, we’ve been kind of slowly moving with that until we got, you know, permitted, again, as good citizens instead of coming into a city, bullying our way in, not listening to the ordinance… From a perspective of onboarding, we have a plan where we think we can get several thousand drivers on pretty quick.”
In Get Me’s news release, Council Member Sheri Gallo is quoted saying, “I am excited to welcome Get Me, a new ondemand company that also includes a ‘for hire’ transportation service, to Austin. Get Me appears to be a company who respects our Austin community values of ensuring safety for both riders and the public. Get Me is willing to comply with city regulations and fully participate in the city’s process of vetting drivers through fingerprinting to verify the driver’s identity and a thorough criminal background and driving history check. As Vice Chair of the City Council Mobility Committee, I applaud the addition of another ride-sharing company in our community as we all encourage safe rides home and continue our efforts to reduce drinking and driving in Austin.”
“The other thing that’s exciting is they’re a Texas-based company. And so it’s nice to have one of our own here working with us,” Kitchen said.
When asked if there’s anything that’s surprised him about going through the TNC permit process with the City, Laramy said, “How welcoming the city and easy it is to work with the city. And having open dialogue about what’s right, what’s wrong, this is new to all of us. And so being in Austin, as we’re all learning we can find out if things are working or not working and if we can all sit down at a table, including, hopefully Uber and Lyft, we can work out a process, to your point earlier, to make it seamless for the driver to onboard that is safe for the rider and the driver and is cost effective.”
Get Me plans to speak at Thursday’s City Council meeting, where a final decision on TNC regulations is expected.
“My biggest concern is that the Council will pass over-burdensome restrictions that will completely undermine the ability of TNCs to do business in Austin and therefore lead to an increase in drunk driving, people losing their jobs, and overall economic decline and a lack of transportation options in Austin,” Troxclair said.
KXAN reached out to both Uber and Lyft for comment.
“Lyft has invested significant resources into our trust and safety processes – including our Critical Response Line which is staffed 24/7 – and in meeting passenger demand during busy times like South by Southwest. With tens of thousands of Lyft rides happening in Austin every month, we’d encourage the City to expand, not restrict, safe ride options for residents and visitors,” Chelsea Wilson, Lyft’s Corporate Communications spokesperson said. “I also would point out that Lyft completed over 7 million rides across the country in October 2015 and has over 100,000 drivers nationwide.”
We have not yet heard back from Uber.
Get Me plans to host a private launch party Tuesday night, and said they anticipate Mobility Committee members Council Member Ann Kitchen, Council Member Sheri Gallo, Council Member Delia Garza, and Council Member Don Zimmerman to attend, along with drivers, called “Go-Getters,” and other community leaders.