May 30, 2016
Two days after Proposition 1’s defeat on May 7th; Uber and Lyft pulled their respective businesses out of the city of Austin. A superficial scan of the story (i.e. title skimming) might yield an inaccurate assumption that Austin has forced them out of the city. However, that is far from the truth, Lyft and Uber decided to team up for a fight in Texas, beyond Austin City Limits. Many do not realize, Lyft and Uber were trying to change local laws in Austin. First the ride sourcing rivals hired scores of Lobbyists to try and implement a statewide Ride-for-hire licensing system. Then, Uber and Lyft put aside their differences, and partnered up to push Proposition 1; which would have repealed the new(-ish) fingerprint regulations in Austin. In their defense, fingerprinting in Austin was not mandatory when the companies entered the city. Lyft outright refuses to provide rides in any city that forces the company to fingerprint their drivers. Conversely, while Uber hates the practice; with a fiery intensity that most reserve for physical pain; they have conformed in the cities where it is necessary. Interestingly, about 150 miles East by Southeast of Austin, Uber operates in a city that energetically enforces fingerprinting regulations. Houston has been a vastly bothersome bane in the ride sourcing apps’ collective side. Unfortunately, for Uber (and tangentially Lyft), Houston has all the leverage in the fight for fingerprinting. As it turns out, the ride-sourcing super unicorn was not vigilantly vetting drivers, thus many drivers in Houston were driving without proper accreditation. That might not have ever been a problem (because it went on for a while without anyone noticing), but it came to the forefront of the national spotlight, when an Uber driver in Houston was accused of sexual assault. Duncan Burton, 57, had what was (ultimately deemed to be) consensual coitus, with an enormously inebriated (and unnamed) woman. So intoxicated, was this woman, she literally incapable of disclosing directions to her new home to the Uber driver, so she asked if she could stay at his place. The city of Houston alleges; the culpability of Burton in the sexual assault case notwithstanding; had Uber followed the proper permitting procedure, the entire matter would have been avoided, because Burton had a criminal history and was therefore ineligible to drive in Houston. Personally, I think this specific example is not entirely ideal, as Uber could make a point in their case (albeit profoundly frail). It is true that the (non-victim?) would have not come into contact with the Uber driver, but his non-violent criminal history (drug related) does not suggest he would be predisposed to any manner of assault. Regardless, Uber’s handling of the case was remarkably poor. Not only were they caught red hand on the steering wheel, but Burton continued to drive for Uber for another two months after the fateful fornication. Furthermore, each of Texas’s major metropolitan areas has varying rules on how the ride sourcing apps are to be handled. While Houston and now Austin have firm fingerprinting laws, Dallas and San Antonio are much more lax. That undoubtedly plays a factor in why Austin is where Uber and Lyft decided to start the attack on fingerprinting.