You almost can’t visit a major American city without at least seeing one of the two major ridesharing companies, Lyft and Uber. Unless you visit Austin, Texas, that is.
Back in April, the city of Austin, Texas was much like many cities when it comes to public transportation. It exists, sure, but the reality is that it provides only a drop in the bucket when it comes to meeting the needs of its inhabitant—which is why ridesharing companies like Uber and Lyft thrived, and were so damn handy.
That's past tense because both Uber and Lyft have pulled out of the city for the time being after losing a costly vote on an ordinance sponsored by a political action committee called Ridesharing Works for Austin, which itself was funded by the two companies. After pouring millions into their campaign, Austin locals voted against the proposed ordinance in favor of the one already in place.
In short, the city of Austin wanted ridesharing companies to undergo the same fingerprint-based background checks that taxi and limo companies are already using. The companies opposed this measure, and managed to get enough signatures on a petition to eventually force a vote.
And they lost! The complicated nature of Prop 1, as it's called, is summarized pretty well by this Q&A from the Austin American-Statesman, but both Uber and Lyft checked out of the the city the Monday following the official vote.
So, what do Austin locals think about all this? That's what I set to find out, and let's just say nobody's exactly thrilled.
"To be completely honest, I'm a little lost on the issue. I don't understand why Uber and Lyft decided not to comply with what was requested by the city of Austin, because if other companies are expected to follow those same policies… I guess I just don't have a good understanding of why Uber and Lyft wouldn't follow them?" - Liz, 30, sign language interpreter
"The whining and money they spent certainly came across as disingenuous."
"I mean, I was definitely mixed about it all. At the end of the day, I came down to the stats of when Lyft and Uber came in and what happened to the drunk driving. [The decrease in] both accidents and arrests were staggering [Ed. note: The reality is a little less cut and dry.], so, I just sort of came down to do whatever it took to keep them around. At the same time, I also hear and agree with… just the whining and money they spent certainly came across as disingenuous." - Erik, 44, filmmaker and creative director
"Basically, when they lost, they said, 'Oh, well, we're taking our toys and going home.' I think it sets a dangerous precedent for any other company to go, 'Uber and Lyft did it their way, and they got their way, so we can deregulate ourselves and do whatever else we want.' I'm jumping the gun here, but it seems like too much laissez-faire—which never really works out." - Ty, 33, comic book store manager
"First time I heard about it was through mailing that they were sending, and it was like, 'Vote for Prop 1!' And I had no idea what Prop 1 was. And then I looked into it, and realized what was going on, and it was kind of… It was weird, because, like, everyone was talking about it. Like, it went from nobody talking about it to everyone talking about it in the span of a week. Our office nonstop that week of the vote was discussing Prop 1, and what it would mean, and whether it was good to vote for it or against it." - David, 29, community manager in the tech industry
"Honestly, the money they spent on all of this advertising… There were ads on Hulu—Hulu of all things! Constantly I was seeing this ad where this man and woman were waiting for, I guess, a ride, and this carriage comes up. And it's like, 'Do you want that instead of Uber or Lyft? Tell Ann Kitchen [Councilmember for District 5 in Austin and chair of the City of Austin's Mobility Committee] you don't want Uber or Lyft to go.'" - Davon, 30, IT analyst
"What's actually in the proposition… Parts of it I agree with, parts of it I don't. The biggest thing was the background checks. I don't agree that they needed to do fingerprints. I feel like [the companies] do a pretty good job of doing backgrounds to begin with. The one thing I didn't like is how Uber and Lyft pretty much bullied the city—the people of the city—to get whatever they want. So, I voted against them." - Jeffrey, 27, former Uber and Lyft driver
"Losing, first of all, doesn't cost them money. They are not picking up the tab for anything. The requirements for fingerprinting don't go into effect for nine months—until February of next year--so there was no reason for them to halt all production the Monday following. They had nine months that they could either get up to speed or decide, like, 'hey, we'll leave.' There was no reason to decide on Monday, like, 'no, we're done!' Unless their goal was to seemingly influence the state legislature to say, 'we'll step in and fix everything for you.'" - Jordon, 33, university lecturer
"There was a whole lot of noise coming from all directions, and I really couldn't make up my mind exactly how I felt about it."
"You know, hindsight being 20/20, I probably would have [voted for Prop 1.] Because it was a super convenient thing to have, and now, especially because of the fact I'm about to fly out of Austin in a couple days to go back home, it would be super convenient to take Uber to the airport rather than having to go and park my car there or trying to find a bus route. Yeah, I would have definitely voted in oppos—if I remember right—in opposition of Prop 1 to keep Uber and Lyft in town, because I think the transportation options in the city of Austin are pretty limited. [Ed. note: Opposition of Prop 1 is actually what made the companies leave. Pro-Uber and Lyft folks would have wanted to vote for Prop 1.]" - Brad, 29, tech support for a hosting provider
"There was a whole lot of noise coming from all directions, and I really couldn't make up my mind exactly how I felt about it. I still keep on being pulled back and forth 'cause I feel like every day somebody else brings up a really solid point as to why both parties were just kind of slamming their heads in different directions on things. I feel there was a lot of weird misinformation out there. I do feel like both parties were trying to slant things in a really weird way when there were a lot more common sense solutions on the table that they just weren't looking at." - Nolan, 34, salesman at a local flag company
Uber Earth is Motherboard's exploration of the ways Uber has already changed the world and how it stands to do so in the future. Follow along here.