The Car-Sharing App Battle in Austin Is Ruining My Life

The Unenthusiast bemoans a collision of the two things he loves least: Austin and cars.

Uber Lyft
Al Seib / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

I write about cars, and I live in Austin, Texas. Ironically, I don’t really like cars, and I really don’t like Austin, Texas. Now it’s all come together, bound by another thing that I don’t like—politics—to create an epic stewpot of pretentious electoral misery unlike anything this half-city has ever seen.

For the last few months, Austinites, who normally don’t care about anything except getting drunk and cheering at fan screenings of geek movies like emotionally stunted tweens, have found themselves caught up in a passionate voting war about car-sharing apps. I will attempt to sum it up for you, a difficult task because the issue is so annoying I’ve chewed off my left arm.

Austin’s city council, led by a good-old-boy mayor who never met a corporation he didn’t French kiss, passed a series of regulations favorable to Uber and Lyft. Then, Austin elected a new mayor, a nice but wimpy tech guy, along with a new city council more representative of the aforementioned stunted tweens. They drafted some fresh regulations that were slightly less favorable to Uber and Lyft. The car sharing companies staged a massive hissy and gathered 65,000 signatures in a petition drive, threatening to leave Austin if they didn’t get their way.

The city council stayed up until 1 AM watching Adult Swim and failed to change the ordinance to Uber and Lyft’s liking, forcing Austin into a special election, to be held this Saturday, May 7, so that we, the noble polity, could decide between two similar sets of regulations on companies that didn’t even exist four years ago. I early-voted on this the other day. Proposition 1 was literally the only thing on the ballot. 

Austin residents, inspired by the bank-smashing spirit of Bernie Sanders, have made the Uber ordinance their last stand against corporate greed—in a city that bends so far over for South By Southwest that it can see its own duodenum.

Have you put the easy-to-obtain-in-Texas gun in your mouth yet? Uber and Lyft have spent $8 million to try to get this thing passed. Eight million! That is almost the annual salary of a Major League Baseball player. Here, as far as I can tell, are the differences between the two ordinances:

  • In the original regulations, Uber and Lyft would be in charge of conducting background screening checks of their drivers. In the new ordinance, the city would have oversight, including mandatory fingerprinting of the drivers.
  • Originally, Uber drivers would be able to pick up passengers anywhere they wanted. In the new ordinance, they would be banned from parking in bus lanes.

There are a few other bits and pieces of bullshit, but that about covers it.

And yet to listen to people talk around here, you’d think that the fate of the Empire hangs in the balance, or that the ordinance would ban Kendrick Lamar from playing festivals on city-owned land. On the one hand, you have Uber and Lyft, companies run by greasy billionaire scum-canoes, acting like a bumbling city government running security checks on glorified cab drivers would be an apocalypse. They’ve sent each voter 3,000 mailers (all of which have gone into the recycler), harassed us with robo-calls from android-women, and clogged the city streets with egg-shaped dudes in pink T-shirts, spouting the company line like brainwashed donut-eating dingwads. Their literature is slick but dull, their talking points obscure and mendacious. Everything about them offends. And now, last-second lawsuits have emerged, saying that "Ridesharing Works For Austin" has violated FCC laws by sending out unwanted texts. But it's too late. The car-sharing texts are coming from inside the house.

Out, out, damned apps!

The opposition, though less well funded, is equally despicable. Austin residents, inspired by the bank-smashing spirit of Bernie Sanders, have decided to make the Uber and Lyft ordinance their last stand against corporate greed. This is the ultimate hypocrisy for a city where Twitter was discovered, a place that bends so far over for South By Southwest—the ultimate gathering of craven new corporatism—that it can see its own duodenum.

People here think nothing of waiting in line for an hour and a half for a crummy Shake Shack burger, but suddenly, when car-sharing companies want to pay slightly less into the city coffers than traditional cab companies do, they care about corporate influence on the city? Not only is the genie out of the bottle, it has stepped on your head and eaten your pets. They say, No worries, there will just be a local option soon if Uber and Lyft leave. Sure. Starting a car-sharing company is just something you can do on GoFund Me. It’s an Etsy site for hand-woven Harry Potter wallets. Wrong. Nothing will rise in their place except for the same old sleazebucket Austin cab companies that make you wait 90 minutes at 2 AM and refuse to pick up black people.

Most offensive, though, is the way both sides have used women’s legitimate fear of sexual assault as a Hook-'Em-Horns political football. If you vote against us, everyone is intimating, there will be an epidemic of cab-rape that will make ISIS seem like sweater-wearing ultra-woke feminists. While I nobly believe the annual number of sexual assaults in hansom vehicles should be zero, it will probably not be, no matter which way the vote goes, no matter who is charged with transporting the vomit-strewn denizens of 6th Street back to their dark and unpatrolled apartment complexes. I bring down a rancid carnitas plague on all political houses for stoking these night terrors. Stop scaring people.

So how did I vote? At the risk of angering my three remaining friends more than if I were to say, “Stevie Ray Vaughan’s music is very mehhh”, I voted in favor of Uber and Lyft. Not because I love those hellish soul-vampire companies—I do not—but because if they do leave town, as they are brattily suggesting, then Austin is even more screwed than usual. Every city thinks its driving situation is the worst. I, against my best wishes, have driven all over the world, and I can definitively say that Austin’s is the worst.

Every day, when I escape the roads here, I say a silent prayer to the Buddha, thankful to have survived another automotive outing in this despicable thicket of monster truck-driving murderers, texting hipsters, and redneck grandmothers in patched-together Buicks. Everyone hates this city’s transit situation, but no one has the will to stop the doom-march. In the past 15 years, stupid puffy-faced suburbanites have voted down comprehensive train packages. And now the central-city-dwelling ramen-swillers have banded together on Facebook like a bunch of fat Avengers to reject car sharing, the only remaining option left that could possibly save any of us from dying at the hands of a drunk-driving frat boy on his way back from piano-bar karaoke.

I suspect the proposition will fail. Both sides will continue to throw obnoxious snits. The rest of us will slowly rot in our cars while listening to podcasts. Unless the city decides those should also be regulated. Apparently, nothing is going to save me other than a whim of fortune that will allow me to magically leave Texas. When you play the game of car sharing, you win, or you die.