Illustration by Max Fleishman
At the push of a button, they can offer a much needed ride to a job interview or a secure way to get home from downtown on a late night. For those who like the flexibility of working from your own car and on your own terms, they're clutch for extra cash. That's why the upcoming election that determines the fate of these two ride-hailing giants is so frustrating.
The UT Austin University Democrats, one the largest college democratic chapters in the country, met on Wednesday evening to vote on whether to issue an endorsement for the contested pro-ride-hailing legislation known as Proposition 1. The document bars Uber and Lyft from having to provide fingerprint-based background checks mandated by the city that appear to disrupt the companies' goal of putting drivers on the road as quickly as possible.
Members of the University Democrats found themselves torn between their desire to keep a convenient service and the rejection of any company that can essentially write their own regulations if they spend a large enough amount.
"Uber and Lyft are critical to the way transportation works in Austin right now and I really don't want them to leave," University Democrats President Tim Meyers told the Daily Dot. "I'm definitely split. I'll be making my decision a lot closer to when I actually go to vote."
Former University Democrats president Huey Rey Fischer made the case to his peers for why ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft are imperative as a public service. Fischer currently serves as the deputy director for outreach with Ridesharing Works for Austin. He asserted that the city council has framed their requirement for fingerprint-based background checks as a public safety concern but believes that officials may not have this interest at heart.
"It's really disingenuous to be talking about [public safety] when what's really on the line is losing a service that has reduced DWIs, has kept young people and students safe—especially getting to and from downtown," Fischer said.
Instances of driving while intoxicated have decreased 24 percent since Uber officially launched in Austin in 2014, according to the Austin Police Department.
While the legislation isn't split smoothly down party lines, conservatives are reportedly largely in favor of Proposition 1.
"Uber and Lyft, if anything, they employ tens of thousands of people in Austin," Matt Mackowiak, vice chair of the Travis County Republican Party, told the Austin Monitor. "And in a lot of cases, it's young people, it's minorities, it's people that need a second job or want to work part-time. Democrats talk about wanting to support opportunity for minorities and for young people. That's exactly what Uber and Lyft are."
Despite the notoriously low voter turnout of the demographic most likely to use app-based ride-hailing companies, Fischer is optimistic about the May 7 vote.
"What's on the base of the ballot is a bad public policy that we need to fight against," Fischer said.