The debate over the May 7 vote on Prop 1, concerning the regulations of transportation network companies (TNCs) like Uber and Lyft, is often framed as a partisan battle – liberals vs. conservatives.
For example, when the Austin American-Statesman recently ran opposing columns on the issue, one, opposing Prop 1, was written by Progress Texas Director Glenn Smith and the other, supporting Prop 1, was written by Travis County Republican Party Vice Chair Matt Mackowiak.
But Huey Rey Fischer, a recent Democratic candidate for House District 49, disagrees. This week, Fischer became the deputy outreach director for Ridesharing Works for Austin, the PAC behind Prop 1. And he’s not alone. A handful of local liberal Democrat consultants have joined RWA’s outreach team, too – including Joe Bowen, Patrick McDonald, Jovita Pardo, and Pedro Villalobos.
“I don’t think it’s an ideological dichotomy,” Fischer says of the issue, “The pro-ridesharing campaign spans the political spectrum.” Fischer, who ran one of the most progressive campaigns in the recent HD 49 race and has worked on socialist campaigns in South America, notes that despite the fact that he’s a leftist, “you have a former Bush staffer [Mackowiak], you know, agreeing with me.”
In some ways, the debate seems to be more of a generational fight than a partisan one. Especially for college students, particularly those who enjoy going downtown, TNCs have become a lifeline for avoiding drunk driving – and a much cheaper, more accessible, and faster lifeline, at that. The 23 year-old Fischer, a 2014 UT grad and former president of UDems, told the Chronicle, “I see it as an issue that greatly impacts the quality of life of young people.” For example, he said, “I use Uber and Lyft when I go to TuezGayz at Barbarella. I use it on the weekends. I use it when I’m too tipsy to ride my bicycle home. It’s just convenient and it’s affordable and students know it’s safe.” Similarly, UT Student Government President Xavier Rotnofsky, while he said he understands the concerns of the city council, told the Chronicle, “Ridesharing is an integral part to student safety. We use Uber and Lyft on the weekends to avoid alcohol-related trouble.”
In contrast, Vincent Harding, the chair of the Travis County Democratic Party, has no sympathy for TNCs. In a March 18 statement announcing the TCDP’s opposition to Prop 1, Harding wrote that the election “is not about whether Uber should be in Austin or whether we want Uber in Austin.” Instead, according to Harding, it’s about “Uber trying to write its own regulations,” which Harding described as a “clear cut example of corporations exercising their power over people and their elected representatives.” Furthermore, Harding wrote, “Austin is a creative city full of early adopters and we reject the notion that outside forces would attempt to divide us by pitting public safety concerns against each other.”
But Fischer disagrees with framing the issue in that way: “This isn’t a debate on whether we’re going to have regulations or no regulations. It’s a debate on whether we’re going to have regulations that truly protect consumers and drivers, or we’re going to have regulations that are being pushed by taxicab companies who are desperately trying to hang on to the vestiges of whatever business they still have.” Pointing out that the current regulations “that are already on the books are safe,” Fischer said the new TNC regulations “that are being pushed by taxicab companies don’t make it any safer. I think there’s definitely a money agenda there. Their bottom line is being threatened by this new 21st century technology.”
It seems like people on both sides fear that the vote is being bought out; the question they debate is who’s doing the buying – the taxicab companies or the TNCs.
Fischer said that the city council was “very well-intentioned, but misguided” on the issue. “All these issues about public safety should be examined, and they should be examined thoughtfully and they should be taken seriously. Unfortunately, the May 7 election does not honestly deal with those issues,” Fischer added.
But it’s not all disagreement between the two: Both Harding and Fischer have expressed concerns about the various labor issues related to TNCs. However, while “those are all valid things that should be discussed,” Fischer told the Chronicle, “that’s not what the May 7 ordinance is about.”
“We need regulations. I support regulations full-heartedly. They have to be strong; they have to be well written.” But, in the end, Fischer says, the regulations “have to come from good public policy, not bad politics.”
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