Hail no: Austin’s ride-hailing conundrum


June 14, 2016


Whether you’re going out with friends, heading to work or attending events downtown, you don’t want to worry about parking, traffic or driving—and that’s where ride-hailing services come in. On May 7, Austin voters rejected Proposition 1, which resulted in ride-booking titans Uber and Lyft halting service in the city.

With the two giants out of the picture, Austinites are struggling to get out and about. Some have turned to alternative ride-hailing services such as Fare, Fasten and GetMe, while others are consulting social media and performing online searches to find new options.

Fare, Fasten and GetMe: The new ride-hailing apps

From the user’s perspective, RideFare, Fasten and GetMe are pretty similar to Uber and Lyft. You find each app in your mobile app store of choice, install it, trade your personal and payment info for an account, and boom: You’re ready to start requesting rides around the city… almost.  One of the main issues with the new ride-booking services is that they don’t have the same number of drivers as Uber and Lyft (at least not yet). This leads to would-be passengers waiting for a reported 45+ minutes and, in some cases, having their reservations cancelled due to driver unavailability. In addition to being left stranded, some passengers have had to deal with reserves on their credit cards for rides they never got to take. The dismaying news isn’t over yet, though, as drivers and riders have also reported various bugs that compromise everything from pickup/drop-off location information to the vehicle/driver details sent to passengers.

Social media platforms: The app alternative

While some Austinites are switching apps, others are swapping platforms. Rather than replacing their Uber and Lyft apps with the likes of Fare, Fasten and GetMe, some people are using online social platforms to request, provide and rate rides. Getting the proper search terms down can be a challenge at first, but underground, unofficial ride-hailing does exist on platforms such as Facebook, Reddit and Craigslist. These platforms work differently to the aforementioned apps: Drivers and riders both initially post to publically viewable boards, with drivers sharing their availability, phone numbers and former Uber/Lyft driver profiles, while people looking for rides publicize their desired pickup/drop-off locations, along with times. Once a rider finds an available driver or vice versa, the transaction moves from the public realm to private messaging, at which point the exact pickup/drop-off location and price are discussed.

The disadvantages to this way of replacing Uber and Lyft are fairly obvious. For instance, there’s no centralized app to manage drivers and riders, all payment methods and rates are set by drivers, and waiting passengers are unable to track drivers en route to pick them up. Ironically, underground ride-hailing also introduces a host of safety concerns—the same concerns that Proposition 1 was supposed to alleviate with more stringent driver screening methods.

It's time to get serious about cybersecurity

View from a (former) Uber driver

As a rider and former Uber driver, I really miss having Uber and Lyft in town. From a passenger perspective, the ride-booking services give me the opportunity to go out with friends without having to consider parking and traffic (two major problems in Austin). When I was an Uber driver, the job put a little extra money in my pocket. The prospects for drivers aren’t as bad, as they can migrate to other ride-hailing operations or to companies like Amazon or Instacart, which offer delivery services. But riders are in a hard place, as it seems the only choices available are taxis, up-and-coming ride-hailing apps or underground networks.

So, which will it be? Apps, which are overpriced, provide generally sub-par service and offer low availability and high wait times, or disorganized, untraceable riders and drivers? I remain hopeful that the new ride-hailing companies will gain enough traction to satisfactorily replace Uber and Lyft, but in the meantime, here’s to expensive downtown parking and sitting behind the wheel in traffic.

John_Livingston_Help_DeskJohn Livingston, Helpdesk

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