Liberals And Conservatives Join To Defend Ride-Sharing From Austin Council’s Attacks

R.J. Caster Campaign Consultant
Font Size:

The city of Austin has been at war with multiple peer-to-peer companies. Ride sharing companies like Uber and Lyft, as well as companies specializing in housing and rentals such as AirBnb and HomeAway, find themselves in the crosshairs of a city government eager to act before thinking. Tomorrow’s vote on Proposition 1 in Austin offers a unique opportunity for people on opposing sides of the ideological spectrum to come together to turn back the city’s bad governance.

Tomorrow the people of Austin are set to vote in a special election having to do with mandatory fingerprint background checks, which would be processed through a city bureaucracy, for all Uber and Lyft drivers. The problem lies in the fact that Uber and Lyft already perform their own background checks that they administer which turned out to be more rigorous than those performed by the taxi and limo companies.

The Austin city government started getting involved with trying to regulate Uber and Lyft last fall for what is really an unknown reason. There was no uptick in Uber-related crime, no safety issues, no issues regarding illegal immigrants being employed (not that the city would care). There was not a single negative outcome to Uber or Lyft’s presence except for one: they were killing the taxi monopoly. A transportation “advocacy” group called TXRidesForHire conducted a poll of 535 Austinites that found a majority supported fingerprint background checks for Uber and Lyft drivers. Uber released their own poll with 993 respondents which showed a majority of the cities citizens favored Uber’s position. Naturally the city council moved to act anyway, and in December bad government did what bad government does: passed a bill that contained mandates, did not layout what the disqualifiers were during the background investigations, and actually had wording that made parts of the bill contradictory.

Uber fought back and collected roughly 65,000 signatures advocating a repeal of the December bill. I’m not sure that Austin has 65,000 conservatives or libertarians even if you counted our pets. This helped show how people of all stripes recognized bad government policy, and presented an opportunity for bipartisanship in an age where bipartisanship is rather difficult to come by.

The unions, lobbyists and city have all joined to create a narrative with the help of the liberal Austin media that this is a fight between “our town” versus big, evil corporations. What’s ironic is that the city of Austin thinks they will be able to do a better job with background checks than companies like Uber or Lyft in an argument mainly predicated on the fact that they are the government. Your mom-and-pop LBJ liberals who have been in Austin since the sixties tend to agree with this line of thinking. Many Austin citizens are left wondering how much better the city can be at handling background checks when they could not even draft the original bill without contradictions in the language over the mandates.

Current Austin Mayor Steve Adler came out against Prop 1 (remember, that means against Uber and Lyft) on the first day of early voting in Travis County. His statement reads heavy like a defeated sigh:

“Today, neither Prop 1 choice is best for Austin because neither delivers by itself what we need … But because these are the only two choices in front of me, I am going to vote ‘Against’ on Prop 1 because such a vote puts Austin and the ride-share companies constructively back at the negotiating table.”

It’s difficult for the citizens of Austin to trust the depth of the mayor’s internal struggle with this issue when he stood by while the city council voted to purposefully wrote the ballot language in such a confusing way that it might end up end up a question on the LSAT for future lawyers. People who have been paying attention to the Prop 1 battle don’t deserve to feel as though the elected officials of Austin are trying to trick them. And then these same public officials decry the amount of money Uber and Lyft have to pour into a campaign just to explain the damn bill to the voters so we know what we are voting on.

Austin has limited public transportation for a large and growing city with a growing suburbia, and was rated the worst city for traffic in the state of Texas. It also had an escalating DWI issue that included county prosecutors. The year Uber alone came to Austin (2014), DWI collisions fell by 23 percent. As a matter of fact, DUI/DWI related driving offenses have dropped in cities after Uber has set up shop on a fairly regular basis.

So here we have a social program that is free market-driven. Uber and Lyft help alleviate traffic downtown, help more people get home safely, are less expensive and have not been shown to be any more dangerous than taxis and limos. As a matter of fact, if anyone tells you they have statistics saying otherwise, they are blatantly lying, as most police departments admit that they do not track whether or not crimes occurred in a cab, or in an Uber or Lyft driver’s vehicle.

Proponents of free markets and innovation should use this opportunity in Austin to develop a relationship with demographics that might not normally coalesce. For instance, young college students in Austin, Texas are not what many would consider “free market conservatives,” but the UT student council voted almost unanimously in favor of Prop 1 (which means they side with Uber/Lyft over the city of Austin). Sometimes the mere proximity that comes from working together for a common goal can help form a bond that will lead to more collaboration down the road. This is especially when people discover that sometimes it doesn’t matter which ideology is at the helm: bad government is bad government.

I hope liberaltarians, conservatives, and everyone between can come together to send a message to nanny-state proponents in Austin, and cities across the country facing the same battle. With the possible shift in the political parties on the national level, coalition-building reminds us that “all politics is local.”