The Austin Chronicle

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Chronicle Endorsements

Vote no on Prop. 1

April 22, 2016, News

Here is the Chronicle editorial board’s endorsement for the May 7 City of Austin Special Municipal Election. See more info at austinchronicle.com/elections.


Proposition 1: AGAINST the ordinance

PROPOSITION 1: “Shall the City Code be amended to repeal City Ordinance No. 20151217-075 relating to Transportation Network Companies; and replace with an ordinance that would repeal and prohibit required fingerprinting, repeal the requirement to identify the vehicle with a distinctive emblem, repeal the prohibition against loading and unloading passengers in a travel lane, and require other regulations for Transportation Network Companies.”

First, defy the laws. Second, rewrite the laws. Finally, buy the elections.

For all their claims of “innovation,” the “transportation network companies” – i.e., Uber and Lyft – are following a script that dates back at least to the era of the Robber Barons, most familiar in Texas as the pattern established by the owners of the hydrocarbon industries. At bottom, it is employing overwhelming economic power to force elected officials and communities into submission, the strategy now used by the TNCs – amateur taxi-for-hire services craftily rebranded as “ridesharers” – against local governments across Texas and the country.

They began operating without adhering to existing Austin ordinances; they drafted and then accepted a temporary, pre-“pilot” ordinance they now insist was permanent; and they’re in the midst of the massive funding of a petition campaign and vote-buying, combined with threats of departure and extremely dishonest promotion and advertising to persuade Austin voters to confirm their domination. Despite all claims to the contrary, this campaign has little to do with “fingerprinting” (the public safety standard) and nothing at all to do with either libertarian principles or the “free market.” Uber and Lyft want a playing field heavily tilted to their advantage, so they can eliminate the local competition and monopolize the ride-hailing market – after which they will resume squeezing drivers and riders as they have persistently done elsewhere.

We certainly understand the need to expand transit services of all kinds in Austin, and recognize that the traditional cab companies, with their ingrained resistance to change, are in part responsible for public pressure for more options. That conservatism has also meant endangering the livelihoods of full-time professional, mostly minority drivers, who have seen their incomes undermined by the peak-time cherry-picking of part-time drivers looking to make a few extra bucks on the side.

We believe ride-hailing is here to stay, although the exact shape it will take should be determined by the whole community in collaboration with our elected officials. A vote against Prop. 1 will not “ban” Uber and Lyft; should they choose to leave, that will be short-sighted and self-defeating, but other companies (likely to include a drivers’ co-op) will soon take their place. The May 7 election, against the staggering amount of money and disinformation campaign of the TNCs, will be an uphill battle. But in the end, Austinites will either be governed by ourselves or by carpetbagging billionaires. We urge our readers to defy their extortion and vote against Prop. 1.

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