The Austin Chronicle

Public Notice: Mobility and the Devil

Only Uber and Lyft can bring back Uber and Lyft

By Nick Barbaro, May 13, 2016, News

"The finest trick of the devil is to persuade you that he does not exist." – Charles Baudelaire

Much has already been written on Satur­day's TNC vote, and there's plenty more elsewhere in this week's issue. But indulge me one more musing on the tech behemoths' peculiar vanishing act.

Uber and Lyft spent $10 million on this campaign, and ceased service abruptly – abandoning their drivers and passengers and forgoing more millions of dollars in profits – for a very specific, and deeply held principle: that they are not subject to government regulation. It wasn't because fingerprinting is onerous, or difficult to implement – that's been proven in Houston and elsewhere – and it certainly isn't to protect the rights of their drivers – we saw how much they cared about their drivers on Monday morning when they left them high and dry, for no real reason except to make a point, as forcefully as they could: They won't operate anywhere where they don't get to write the regulations under which they will operate.

It's an outrageous premise on the face of it, harking back to 120 years ago, in the days before antitrust laws and labor rights. But the remarkable thing about how Uber and Lyft chose to go was that after storming out and slamming the door behind them, they have continued to insist that their hands are tied, that they've been forced to leave by a city council – and now presumably an entire electorate – that won't let them do business here. (But others will, and already do, and we'll see how quickly any of them can scale up to become a truly useful transportation option; see "Filling the Gap," May 13.)

The well-funded media and social media campaign continues, through and past the election: "If you want to see ridesharing in Austin again, complain to your City Coun­cil." In fact, of course, the only ones who can bring Uber and Lyft back to Austin are Uber and Lyft themselves. But who's complaining to them? Where's the social media campaign demanding they give up their pride and do right by their loyal drivers and customers whom they jilted so suddenly? Haven't seen any of that? I guess that's because no one's paying for it. But anyway, who is there to protest to? Uber and Lyft have gone away.

(But not very far away. After all, we're still the state capital, and Uber has long been more a lobbying firm than a transportation firm. Consider: In another story in the feature package, Richard Whittaker notes that "last session, Uber had a total of 28 registered lobbyists on its payroll in Texas." To put that into context, as of last fall, Uber had just 21 employees in the Houston area, as their local GM told the Houston Business Journal.)

Life after TNCs?

There are indeed plenty of other transportation issues percolating around; here are a few of them:

TNCs aside, the most substantial mobility initiative everyone is waiting for has to do with the paired progress of Austin's Smart City Challenge entry, and the possibility of a city transportation bond package on the November ballot. A decision on the Smart City grant money – potentially $50 million to fund technological solutions to mobility issues – is due within a few weeks, and whether Austin wins, or loses to one of the six other finalists, City Council will be looking at the programs that make up that application, to either supplement or replace that money.

Bike Austin has been pushing hard to ensure that any transportation bond floated in November includes full funding for the Bicycle Master Plan. To that end, they're circulating a petition asking City Council to make that commitment; see for more info.

May is Bike Month, and there are tons of activities going on, centered around Bike to Work Day, Friday, May 20, which will feature "more morning fueling stations with free coffee, snacks, and swag than ever." See more info at And Austin B-cycle is offering various specials for Bike Month including a first ride free to anyone who signs up for the promotion online at

Cap Metro is holding a series of public open houses this week, to present the status of their long-range "Transit Plan for the Future," Tue., May 17, 5-6:30pm at University Hills Library, 4721 Loyola; Wed., May 18, 11:30am-1pm at Republic Square, 422 Guadalupe, and 5-6:30pm at Pleasant Hill Library, 211 E. William Cannon; and Thu., May 19, 5-6pm at Cap Metro HQ, 2910 E. Fifth.

The Guadalupe Street Corridor Improvement Pro­gram team is holding an open house as we go to press; given the huge fight a couple of years ago over the decision not to plan rail for this corridor, it'll be interesting to see what they are planning for the stretch between MLK and 29th:

Love Your Creeks!

A lot of Austin's history has been defined by two primary urban waterways, Waller Creek and Shoal Creek, framing Downtown on the east and west sides. Each creek has issues with development, and drainage, and public access, each has a well-established volunteer support group to help address those issues, and each of those groups is having an event this week:

The Shoal Creek Conservancy's annual awards show is Tuesday, May 17, 5:30-7:30pm at Seaholm Plaza, "celebrating the community that makes improving Shoal Creek a reality." Live music and tasty bites from local restaurants. Tickets are $35 each, $60 for two, or join as a sponsor, at

Meanwhile the Waller Creek Conservancy, in partnership with the City of Austin, is working to revitalize and transform Palm Park, as part of a restored Waller Creek parks district. They're looking for public input at a series of Palm Park Conversations: Thursday, May 19, 8-9:30am and 6-7:30pm at Waller Ballroom, 700 E. Sixth; and Saturday, May 21, 10-11:30am at Parque Zaragoza Rec. Center, 2608 Gonzales. More info at

Digital Resource Fair: To celebrate Digital Inclusion Day, Austin Free-Net partners with Skillpoint Alliance, Austin Community College, the city of Austin, and Google Fiber to highlight and demonstrate an array of online resources: community organizations, computer classes and summer youth programs, plus one-on-one guidance on using Internet and computer services. Friday, May 13, noon-4pm. Free. ACC's Highland Campus, 6101 Airport.

Destination ACC: Saturday: Learn about ACC programs, enrollment, financial aid, and more on Saturday, May 14, 10am-4pm, at the ACC Highland, Round Rock, and Riverside campuses. Bring Photo ID, proof of residency, and academic records. For more info or to register, visit

Texas Demography Conference hosted by the Texas State Data Center & Office of the State Demographer. Tuesday and Wednesday, May 17-18, at the Holiday Inn Austin Midtown, 6000 Middle Fiskville.

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