What It’s Like to Live in a City Without Uber

What It’s Like to Live in a City Without Uber, by Neal Pollock. A month ago Austin, Texas, rejected a proposal by Uber and Lyft to self-regulate their drivers and instead mandated stricter rules on the companies, including fingerprint background checks and emblems on cars. A disaster of price gouging, traffic and bad taxis has followed.

Overnight, a city of two million people, a major international tech business hub and the Capital of Texas, has become virtually impossible to navigate without a privately owned car. If you’re from out of town, you’re in trouble. …

Getting to and from the airport was fine, Duncan says. He used the airport-transit app Wingz, which was on time, clean, and reasonably priced. The rest of the weekend, he says, “truly sucked.” He tried a cab-hailing app called Z Trip, which replied to his request two hours after he made it. “We walked for miles on Saturday night,” he says. “It took us forever to get back home. On Sunday night, it took us an hour to get out of a Mexican restaurant that was trying to shut down.” …

Berezin had a pre-scheduled business trip to Austin the week that Uber and Lyft left town. He had to hail a taxi instead. “The cab was super loud, the structure had worn out a long time ago,” he said. “I couldn’t even hear myself when I was on the phone.” He had to travel from the airport to suburban Round Rock. The driver didn’t know the destination, so he had Berezin enter the destination on an old Blackberry. Including tip, the ride cost 97 dollars. Three months earlier, the exact same trip had cost Berezin $50 with Uber.

“When I went to pay there wasn’t a standard swipe, “Berezin said. “I handed him a card, he put it through a Square on his personal phone. And then I got a receipt not from Yellow Cab, but from this guy. There were no protections. I don’t want to hand my card to just anyone.”

Who knew that transport had primarily become a communications problem, rather than an automobile problem? The internet and apps solved that problem, with Uber and others adding the communications solution to the existing automobiles. Going back to the old pre-information monopolies really sucked.

Austin has gone back in time 20 years, to an era where the taxi monopoly and the Hertz cartel had a total chokehold on visitors. One of Berezin’s colleagues had a scheduled car rental. The company told him they were sold out, not likely on an average Tuesday. But, they said, they had a few cars in reserve in case of emergency, priced at $100 a day. “These weren’t Escalades,” Berezin says. “They were old Nissan Sentras.” The price-gouge is on. …

Meanwhile, ten thousand drivers are out of a job—or at least a second job. The city’s huge phalanx of former ride-sharing drivers finds itself scrambling for work. The city responded by setting up a useless hotline and a “job fair” that consisted of little more than telling people how to apply for expensive chauffeur’s licenses and cab medallions.

Other than the occasional savvy low-scale entrepreneur and sharky car-rental and cab companies, no one appears to be benefitting from this insane transit apocalypse. Though the city frightened voters with terrifying depictions of a plague of Uber-rape, it’s now come out that people with sexual assault convictions, and even drunk-driving arrests, are actually allowed to drive cabs in Austin, few questions asked.

hat-tip Matthew