The Rise and Fall (and Rise) of Ridesharing in Austin

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By Landon Biehl

Austin is a vibrant city that thrives on its “weirdness.” It is a great place to visit and an even better place to live (just ask any of the lifelong residents). A college town, and an equally great place to raise a family, Austin is also pedestrian and bike-friendly, so there’s often little need to drive a car.

Despite the multiple ways to get around, driving a vehicle is a prominent means of transport and is also problematic. The Texas Department of Transportation reports that in 2016 (the latest data available), there were a total of 15,814 total vehicle crashes; some were fatal, most had no injuries.

Two years prior, there were 12,052 total crashes in 2014, and 14,263 total crashes in 2015. While there are many factors that can contribute to a car accident, such as distracted driving and even weather, there are a few things to consider when looking at the statistics and one of them might be the presence (and then the absence) of ridesharing services in Austin.

What Happened to Uber and Lyft?

The Rise and Fall (and Rise) of Ridesharing In Austin

Photo: Facebook/Uber

Many of the major cities throughout Texas have ridesharing services like Uber and Lyft, and they are frequently utilized by residents and tourists alike. Whether you live in the heart of Austin or even a few cities away, you may remember hearing about Austin’s brief and tumultuous experience with ridesharing services.

If you don’t remember, here’s a brief recap of what happened. In the spring of 2014, Uber and Lyft arrived in Austin, Texas and began full operation by November of that same year. In December of 2015, Austin City Council passed an ordinance that required Uber and Lyft to conduct fingerprint background checks on all of their drivers (just like what’s required of Austin’s taxi companies).

The ridesharing services spent millions of dollars to fight the ordinance and lost because Austin residents were in favor of the background check. Subsequently, in May of 2016, both companies stopped their services throughout Austin.

After more lobbying, the companies were able to push House Bill 100 into action, which changed state requirements (and threw out the required fingerprint background checks). On May 29, 2017, Uber and Lyft resumed services in Austin.

2. Does Ridesharing Help Or Hurt Drunk Driving in Austin?

The Rise and Fall (and Rise) of Ridesharing In Austin

Photo: Facebook/Lyft

A day or weekend trip to Austin wouldn’t be complete without a visit to one of the many brewpubs, distilleries, or wineries. Even if you can get to quite a few places on foot or by bike, it might be more convenient to travel by car.

Drunk driving statistics for Texas speak for themselves and are one of the contributing factors in a number of car accidents. According to the Texas Department of Transportation, in 2013 (a year before Uber and Lyft came to Austin) there were a total of 1,350 alcohol-related crashes in Austin. The next year, there were a total of 1,120. In 2015, the number rose up to 1,373. While ridesharing services are a great option to avoid a costly and deadly accident, it’s difficult to determine if Uber or Lyft helped decrease the number of accidents involving a drunk driver.

Accident Issues Still Exist, but Can Be Improved

The Rise and Fall (and Rise) of Ridesharing In Austin

Photo: Facebook/Uber

The bottom line is that there are still problematic drivers in Austin and despite the somewhat promising statistics, there’s room for improvement. Whether you’re living in Austin or just visiting, you have one more transportation option now that Uber and Lyft are back in service. Rather than putting your life or someone else’s at risk, opt to stay out from behind the wheel.