The Austin Take: The “State of Rideshares” in Austin

8.8.16

Since my last blog post, the landscape of transportation has changed significantly in Austin. Proposition 1, the public vote on whether or not Lyft and Uber drivers should undergo fingerprint background checks, failed. As a result, Uber and Lyft fulfilled their threat to leave town, stranding thousands of riders and drivers throughout the city— just in time for the Texas summer, nonetheless.

Many Austinites, including myself, were upset by the companies’ decision to be petty and practically pick up their ball and leave because the vote (that they lobbied to have) didn’t go their way. With public transportation lacking in the city and cabs being cast as dirty and shady, people had problems getting around or going out, causing some people to evade downtown completely to avoid the stress. Something had to be done after Austin grew dependent on these rideshare apps. That’s when RideAustin and other apps stepped in and stepped up.

While ride-hailing app GetMe was already in town, many companies swooped in from other cities to make gains in a market that the rideshare giants abandoned. Among these were Fasten, Fare, Wingz (for airport transportation) and InstaRyde. My personal favorite is Fasten as it has the best user interface of the bunch and especially because I’ve been raking in referrals and free rides at a rapid pace.

However, while companies have been entering the city, a homegrown nonprofit app called RideAustin has been developed and argued that Austin, not outside companies, should be solving its own problems.

At a recent Austin PRSA meeting, Joe Deshotel, who is spearheading RideAustin’s efforts to fill the gap of ridesharing in Austin post-Prop 1, participated in a Q&A to discuss the app’s inception and the communication efforts to get it off the ground.

Deshotel stated that people calling Austin an anti-tech city after prop 1 spurred their decision to start the company because they knew that was a lie. Fortunately for RideAustin, gaining coverage was initially easy. Because the vote on Prop 1 had become a national news story, people wanted to hear about what Austin was doing to fill the void, which incited an almost immediate USA Today article for them.

However, as this would be a new app with many outside competitors, Deshotel realized that community outreach and support would be absolutely essential. As the former communications director for the Travis County Democratic Party, he was fortunate enough to have plenty of experience doing this. Local Austin companies began supporting the app and RideAustin began offering rides in small parts of the city, expanding as they grew.

A huge benefit that RideAustin has emphasized in its communications is that it functions as a nonprofit, claiming to provide drivers with a higher percentage of the total fair, while keeping the fare low for riders. According to Deshotel, striking this balance between riders and drivers is one of the most important and difficult aspects of promoting the app. The cheaper the fare, more riders want to participate but fewer drivers want to join and visa-versa with a higher fare. As demand for riders and drivers is the name of the game, RideAustin strives to express their narrative of keeping fares competitive while treating drivers right.

Additionally, RideAustin rounds up each fare to the nearest dollar and donates that difference to one of six charities within the app. These local charities include causes for pets, children, families and more as they add options. While contributing to the city in a charitable manner, RideAustin is also sharing its data for public research. With this data, RideAustin is working with UT, CapMetro (Austin’s buses) and more to improve traffic and ridesharing.

These community-centric initiatives help attract customers and riders, according to Deshotel. RideAustin’s developers knew that Austin is a unique and proud city, touting such slogans as “Keep Austin Weird” and “Welcome to Austin. Don’t Move Here.” Therefore, they knew their audience would appreciate RideAustin being an app for Austin, by Austin and helping Austin.

Austin initially panicked after Prop 1, unsure of what its transportation system would become (or mainly how they would get to and from bars). However innovation from outside and especially within is making improvements. Moving forward, it all depends on which app can entice the Austin community— and with RideAustin’s community-first plan, it has a great chance of becoming the front-runner.

What do you think about the changes brought about in Austin by Prop 1? Let us know in the comments!