Uber Exits Austin, Could Impact Other Cities. Do You Agree With Uber’s Reasons?

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Like many folks, I received an email that Uber is leaving Austin because of new city rules requiring fingerprinting of their drivers.

I’ll explain how it might affect Uber everywhere…and even other sharing-economy businesses like Airbnb.

Uber Exits Austin Could Impact Other Cities Do You Agree With Ubers Reasons

Uber Has Stopped Operating in Austin. I’ll Explain What Could Happen Nationwide With Uber…and With Airbnb!

New Rules for Ride-Sharing Companies in Austin

Uber has suspended services in Austin after the city voted to pass a law requiring their drivers to be fingerprinted.

If you look for an Uber ride in Austin, you’ll get a message that there are “No Pickups” available.

Uber Exits Austin Could Impact Other Cities Do You Agree With Ubers Reasons

If You Try to Use Uber in Austin, This is the Message You’ll Get

Other cities in Texas, like San Antonio and Houston, have passed similar laws.  And Atlanta, Chicago, and Los Angeles, are considering the same regulations.

Last year, Uber left San Antonio but returned a few months later after the city started a program that made fingerprinting voluntary for drivers.

A Look at Both Sides of the Issue

Advocates of fingerprinting say it’s for the safety of passengers.  They argue that Uber’s current background checks aren’t thorough enough.  And because taxi drivers are fingerprinted, Uber drivers should be too.

Folks against fingerprinting argue that more regulation isn’t good for customers, because it cuts down on competition.  And that Uber takes business from taxi companies simply because it offers a better service.

According to a Wall Street Journal article, Uber believes these types of laws will discourage new drivers from signing-up.

Because driver turnover is high, they have to consistently sign-up new drivers to keep up with demand.

Fingerprinting is required for Uber drivers in New York and Houston, which Uber says is the reason fewer drivers are signing-up, causing longer wait times for its customers.

Uber Says Its Driver Background Checks Are Better and Cheaper

Uber argues its background check system is more thorough and efficient than fingerprinting.  And they claim using a fingerprinting system, like taxis do, is too slow and expensive.

Uber Exits Austin Could Impact Other Cities Do You Agree With Ubers Reasons

Do You Think Uber Drivers Should Be Fingerprinted Just Like Taxi Drivers?

Some have even pointed to the DUI industry as a reason lawmakers might be supporting rules to make it more difficult for Uber.  They say there’s been a decrease in DUIs in certain areas with Uber, and there’s a lot of money involved in DUIs including ticket fines and attorneys’ fees.

My Experience With Uber

I’ve used Uber in Austin and found it to be a cheaper and better experience than taxis.  I’ve spoken to a number of Uber drivers in Austin too, and most were folks driving part-time for extra cash.

For example, I rode with a man who turns his car into an Uber on his way home from his regular job.  And with a woman who is a school teacher and picks up riders on her way to work and in the summer.  I’ve (luckily!) never had an issue with an Uber driver.

I find Uber especially helpful when traveling because of the GPS tracking which shows you a map of where you’re going as you drive.  You don’t have to know the city’s layout or where it might be more or less difficult to hail a cab.  The Uber driver comes to you.

Uber Exits Austin Could Impact Other Cities Do You Agree With Ubers Reasons

Uber Makes It Easy to Pay With a Card That Earns Points or Miles to Save You Money on Future Travel

I also like that you always pay for an Uber by credit card!  So you can earn bonus points on the travel purchase.  Because in some cities you might not be able to find a taxi that accepts cards.  And if you do, you have to wait to sign the receipt.

The Future of Sharing-Economy Businesses Like Uber and Airbnb

The issues Uber and Uber drivers are facing are similar to those Airbnb and its hosts face.

Like Uber, Airbnb’s business is based on the sharing-economy.  That is, a business built on the concept of folks sharing resources, like cars and houses.  And Airbnb doesn’t heavily regulate its listings or hosts.

But a number of cities in the US have already started restricting folks from listing entire homes or apartments for rent on a nightly basis.  Like in New York, where some Airbnb listings violate the city’s short-term leasing law.

Uber Exits Austin Could Impact Other Cities Do You Agree With Ubers Reasons

There Are a Lot of Apartments in New York, and the City Has Laws Regarding Short-Term Leases. Some Airbnbs Violate These Rules!

If more cities pass laws like the ones in Austin and New York, sharing-economy companies like Uber and Airbnb might have to adjust way they operate.

If more regulations leads to fewer Airbnb listings and Uber drivers, prices could increase for consumers because there will be less competition.  But more thorough background checks could also make things safer.   

An Airbnb Host’s Perspective

My friend is an Airbnb host, and she has been watching closely as more cities create laws like these.  She said she doesn’t really mind if Airbnb required her to be fingerprinted.  She aims to do whatever makes travelers more likely to book with her and makes her guests feel most comfortable.

That said, she thinks there’s a fine line between too much and too little regulation, and she doesn’t want Airbnb to increase its fees because of more red tape in the system.  That wouldn’t be good for hosts or travelers!

What I Think About Fingerprinting

As for other economy-sharing businesses, like Uber, I believe there can be a happy medium between folks on both sides of the argument.

I like the idea of making fingerprinting available but optional.  That way drivers (and Airbnb hosts too) could opt-in if they wanted, and get some type of special “verified” mark on their profile.  Uber riders could then decide for themselves whom they’re comfortable riding with.

Bottom Line

Uber has left Austin because of a new city law requiring they fingerprint their drivers.  Uber maintains their driver background check is safer and cheaper.  And that using the same system as taxis will result in fewer drivers because of longer wait times.

Sharing-economy companies like Uber and Airbnb often have lower prices than taxis and hotels because their costs are lower.  And because regular folks can participate as drivers and hosts without paying large fees up front.

Do you think Uber and Airbnb should be regulated the exact same way as cabs and hotels?  Or do you think this will limit competition, leading to higher prices and fewer choices for customers?

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8 responses to “Uber Exits Austin, Could Impact Other Cities. Do You Agree With Uber’s Reasons?

  1. Living in Austin, there have already been issues of taxi drivers refusing customers, issues, etc., since uber left. Competition is a good thing. We’d like Uber back!

  2. Uber is blaming their exit to the City Council but “conveniently” forgetting it is the people who voted that they need to start fingerprinting drivers to rule out shady drivers. They didn’t want to follow that rule and so they left.
    Also, behind the scene, the Republicans supporters wanted to destroy the Taxi unions who predominantly votes Democrats (i.e Koch brothers approach to USPS to bankrupt).

  3. If you’ve really been following this, you would know that City of Austin has been bending over backwards to lower the barrier to entry that fingerprinting poses by offering mobile fingerprinting stations and subsidized and expedited fingerprinting for Uber and Lyft. The city really has nothing against Uber and Lyft, but the two companies feel like they should be able to have their way or the highway. Caving in would be givi the companies way too much power in politics. Good on Austin for not caving and I hope my city (Houston) sticks firm too! I personally don’t care that much about fingerprinting but cities should be able to make their own laws! Reflect the will of the voters, not the will of corporate interests.

  4. I blame Uber for this. Whether they admit to it or not, or regardless of any technicality, they are a taxi service and need to obey the local laws. If they refuse, someone else will come in that will fill the void.

  5. I’ve used Uber all over the world. It’s a wonderful service and a brilliant idea. Taxi services were complacent and had sweetheart deals across cities before Uber came around. In other words, I’m totally onboard. That being said, the compromise you’re proposing is a false equivalency. Just because you have one side saying “we want to ensure safety with fingerprinting,” doesn’t mean that the other side saying “background checks without fingerprinting is safe” is an equivalent, valid second option. It should not be up to Uber or any private company to decide what safety regulations are just- that’s what regulators are for. As you correctly said, New York requires all Uber/Lyft drivers go through the same security checks and training as other taxi and livery drivers. The system works. I have never had an issue waiting for an Uber in New York- ever. Not in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens. Anywhere. Uber didn’t have to stop operating in Austin. They just had to abide by what the council, and then voters, ultimately decided to mandate.

  6. I, too, live in Austin, and this was never about safety. The council member who proposed the ordinance received contributions from the cab lobby for her election. The City of Austin is notoriously greedy and seeks to regulate/add fees to the point of absurdity. Permits that were $75 10 years ago are now over $700 annually due to “administrative fees.” The mayor stated in his letter to constituents that the City wanted the ability to add additional fees and/or regulations in the future, such as requiring TNC drivers to carry fire extinguishers in vehicles.

    Unfortunately, Uber overplayed its hand, and turned voters off with their strong-arm tactics.

    Coincidentally, the day the Council proposed the regulations, a new service called “GetMe” announced they were coming to town and willing to abide by the regulations. To my knowledge, no one to date has been able to determine who owns/backs this company. People who have tried to use the new service say it has been a nightmare. Those attempting to sign up to drive went to a job fair where the sign up process took 6 hours. This morning, it was on the news that the service is asking for a loan from the City to help them expand/improve service.

    To date, none of the active GetMe drivers have been through any type of background check (http://keyetv.com/news/local/no-penalties-for-austin-ride-share-companies-not-getting-fingerprint-checks). Yes, the City Council’s decision was all about safety.

  7. For various reasons I have been investigated and fingerprinted so many times I lost count . Over 40 years I held ‘Secret’ clearance for work .
    What’s the problem if you have nothing to hide ? Uber wants to be spoiled brats , send ’em packing .

  8. I am in Houston and have used Uber a few times, but only will with my hubby. Something that was not mentioned about Houston is that Uber agreed to the these regulations 2 years ago when they started working here. If they didn’t like the rules, they should not have agreed to them.

    I have been fingerprinted and had federal background checks and honestly, it was easier than getting my PreCheck approved and much faster. I do not understand how Uber thinks that they are not a providing the same service as a taxi. If they want to do business here, they need to follow the law.