Prop 1 fails, marking defeat for Uber and Lyft in Austin

(AP File Photo)
(AP File Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — As Proposition 1 failed Saturday, in a major defeat for ridesharing companies, all eyes are turned to Uber and Lyft to see if they will follow through on their promise to leave Austin.

Uber says it will stop operations in the city of Austin at 8 a.m. Monday. Lyft says their company will “pause operations” the same day, after previously saying they would “shut down” at 5 a.m. on Monday.

With 100 percent of precincts reporting, results show 56 percent voted against Prop 1 and 44 percent voted for the proposition. More than 55,000 people took part in early voting, while only 32,858 people voted on Election Day.

In total, 17 percent of registered voters in Travis County took part in the election.

The failure of the proposition Saturday means the city of Austin’s plan to require fingerprinting for rideshare drivers’ background checks will go ahead. A deadline for compliance has not been set.

Before the vote, a spokesperson with the city of Austin said they have not established penalties for rideshare companies that do not comply.

The result also means rideshare drivers will not be allowed to stop in lanes of traffic while they pick up or drop off passengers.

In a victorious moment for Austin Mayor Steve Adler, he said:

The people have spoken tonight loud and clear. Uber and Lyft are welcome to stay in Austin, and I invite them to the table regardless. Austin is an innovative and creative city, and we’ll need to be at our most creative and innovative now.”

In an interview with KXAN’s Kylie McGivern at an election night watch party at Scholz Garten, the mayor said, “The people of the community have now spoken and what they said, I think, is that they want the decision to be made by their local government. And now it falls on the local government now to step in and now do its work.”

Council Member Don Zimmerman, a supporter of the proposition, said he was very disappointed in the election result and emphasized, “This is not over.” He said regardless of the outcome, the battle would have continued whether Prop 1 passed or failed.

The fingerprinting requirement was put forward by Mayor Adler and members of city council last year.

“I think what the community said is that public safety is important to them. Now we’ve heard and we believe that TNCs are important to the community, but what we have, what we’ve been saying all along, is that we don’t have to sacrifice public safety for transportation,” Council Member Ann Kitchen said Saturday night.

The companies argued the fingerprinting requirement would put an unnecessary burden on their drivers, as well as possibly hurt their bottom line.

One week before Saturday’s election, Ridesharing Works for Austin, a political action committee asking voters to approve Proposition 1, took in close to $5 million in contributions.

A political action committee opposed to Prop 1, “Our City, Our Safety, Our Choice,” took in $88,000 during the same period.

“It had a lot of community support from organizations, as well as individuals who just stood up and said, ‘We’re not gonna allow multi-billion dollar corporations to write their own rules here in Austin, Texas. That’s not the way Austin works,'” Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo told KXAN. “As I talked to voters at the polls and on the phones, many of them like Uber’s service and Lyft’s, they use it, but they drew the line at allowing them to write their own rules. And that’s really significant.”

Mayor Adler attended a watch party in opposition to Prop 1 Saturday evening (KXAN Photo/Kylie McGivern)
A watch party in opposition to Prop 1 Saturday evening (KXAN Photo/Kylie McGivern)

The group accused ridesharing companies of running an illegal campaign, arguing Uber and Lyft’s offer of free or discounted rides to polling polices could be considered “buying votes.”

Lyft released a statement Saturday after the result, saying, “Lyft and Austin are a perfect match and we want to stay in the city. Unfortunately, the rules passed by City Council don’t allow true ridesharing to operate.”

The company said voters’ decision makes it harder for part-time drivers to get on the road and harder for passengers to get a ride. “Because of this, we have to take a stand for a long-term path forward that lets ridesharing continue to grow across the country, and will pause operations in Austin on Monday, May 9.”

Uber followed Lyft with a statement saying, “Disappointment does not begin to describe how we feel about shutting down operations in Austin.” The company said they are “incredibly grateful” to their drivers and riders, as well as those who campaigned for them. “We hope the city council will reconsider their ordinance so we can work together to make the streets of Austin a safer place for everyone.”

Uber plans to continue operating in the Austin suburbs. Lyft has not said if they will do the same.

“Austin is an innovative and creative city. And now we need to be at our most innovative and creative. We welcome Uber and Lyft in the community and I hope and trust that I’ll have the chance to be able to sit down and talk to them,” Mayor Adler said Saturday night.

On Thursday, unions representing Austin police, fire and EMS came out against Prop 1. The groups, including CLEAT, the largest law enforcement officers’ union in Texas, cited safety concerns in their opposition, specifically the provision that would have allowed ridesharing drivers to stop in lanes of traffic while picking up or dropping off customers.

Lyft drivers said Saturday they were worried about the result, saying this was their full-time job (KXAN Photo)
TNC drivers said Saturday they were worried about the result, one, saying driving for Uber and Lyft is her full-time job (KXAN Photo)

Dr. Matthew Hersh, a statistician who lectures at the University of Texas, said the rideshare companies’ claim that their services lowered DWI arrests in Austin is inaccurate.

“There is no relationship, no correlation between Uber and Lyft and DWI accidents or DWI arrests,” Hersh said.

Former Mayor Lee Leffingwell, who called the Prop 1 ballot language “intentionally confusing” Saturday, had described ridesharing companies as a vital service for people with disabilities.

“We’re disappointed in tonight’s results,” Leffingwell, who worked for Ridesharing Works for Austin, said. “The benefits of ridesharing are clear: reduced drunk driving and economic opportunity. And we won’t stop fighting to bring it back.”

A Lyft driver, seeing the preliminary numbers come in against Prop 1, said, “These numbers are just really scary. There are thousands of us that do this full time… I’m going to be looking for a full-time job competing with all the other full-timers.”

KXAN made the following video before the vote, explaining what a “yes” and “no” vote means:

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