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On Saturday afternoon, Austin, Texas, Lyft drivers and their families convened at the city’s new Lyft Driver Center to kick off a month-long campaign with election materials and savory barbecue.
The campaign in question is a first for Lyft, one of two major transportation network companies (TNCs—the other being Uber) involved in the May 7 citizen’s petition special election in Austin. The outcome of the proposition, the only one on the ballot, will determine whether TNCs will operate in the city without conducting mandatory fingerprint-based background checks on drivers.
Should TNCs lose the election, both Uber and Lyft have threatened to leave Austin.
This campaign kick-off comes nearly two months into the election game, with Austin city council having voted on the decision to hold an election on Feb.11, and the ballot language decided a week later.
Between bites of Southern comfort food and light conversation, event attendees registered as voters in Travis County—the county encompassing Austin—and signed up to assist on the campaign trail. In black cloth “swag bags,” drivers were given election materials including door signs, decals, and flyers that promoted voting for the proposition.
Though much of the initial local attention to the election focused on the more than 65,000 signatures that allowed the citizen’s petition to go to the city council in February, Nicole Redler told the Daily Dot that Saturday’s event was focused on engaging Lyft drivers instead of the broader Austin community. Redler is both a Lyft driver and the campaign organizer for Ridesharing Works for Austin, the political action committee partly funded by Uber and Lyft.
“The purpose was to get drivers on board with the election and distribute literature for them to have in their cars to inform passengers,” Redler wrote in a message. “[It was] also to register drivers to vote in the election.”
Screengrab from voteprop1.com
While the event was hosted by Lyft, the TNC is technically not the entity campaigning for the May vote. Ridesharing Works for Austin was the driving force behind the citizen’s petition ordinance in early January, and has continued the fight under the moniker “Vote for Prop 1,” an outreach effort encouraging Austinites to vote for eliminating the requirement for fingerprint-based background checks.
On Thursday, local publication The Austin Chronicle published a story noting that the PAC recently hired at least five new staffers for Ridesharing Works’ outreach team, with recent Texas House District 49 Democratic candidate Huey Rey Fischer as the PAC’s deputy outreach director.
Despite the recent campaign overhaul, Austin Lyft general manager Austin Fox expressed concern when speaking to event attendees on Saturday. Fox said the typical Austin voter isn’t a TNC user with no connection to TNC services, and it’s the responsibility of Lyft drivers to help turn out the TNC-supporter vote.
“We cannot have people that don’t use our product vote us out, and that’s why your support and efforts and are so critical,” Fox said to attendees. “You’re going to have to be telling your passengers nonstop, ‘Hey, vote. May 7.’…There’s nothing [that’s] going to be more effective than a passenger in your car seeing the [campaign] materials… and you flat out telling your passenger, ‘I’m not going to be able to drive unless you get your butt out and vote.’”
With five days left for Austinites to be registered to vote in time for the election, and 23 days until early voting begins, Fox’s fervor is understandable. In addition, Ridesharing Works’ and Lyft’s definitive plans of attack have yet to be revealed.
Giovanni Bernal-Van Sandt, a Lyft driver, mentor, and volunteer, told the Daily Dot he’s typically contacted one or two days in advance before a new campaign stage or volunteer assignment.
Redler was unable to speak on the campaign’s plans, and according to Lyft Senior Policy Communications Manager Chelsea Wilson, the campaign plans are not drawn up or enacted by Lyft directly. However, Wilson told the Daily Dot she believes Saturday’s kick-off is a strong example of Lyft’s stance and efforts on the proposition vote.
“I think the majority of our efforts are going to be supporting the Vote for Prop 1 campaign, and also making sure that the Lyft community is able to be heard on May 7,” Wilson said. “I think we’re just going to support the…campaign, but also constantly be in contact with drivers and passengers to talk about the election.”
Huey Rey Fischer did not respond to a request for comment on Ridesharing Works for Austin’s future campaign plans.
Samantha Grasso is a former IRL staff writer for the Daily Dot with a reporting emphasis on immigration. Her work has appeared on Los Angeles Magazine, Death And Taxes, Revelist, Texts From Last Night, Austin Monthly, and she has previously contributed to Texas Monthly.