Uber and Lyft Are Back in Austin: How Do Drivers and Riders Feel About It?

uber and lyft return to austin

UPDATE: Fasten doesn’t show signs of backing down. In fact, they’re hosting Fasten Fest, on June 17, 2017 in Austin to celebrate their one year anniversary of service in Austin. In the lineup are a plethora of bands, free cake and other delicious food and adult beverages.

On June 13, 2017 Ride Austin surprised customers by lowering their rates to match Uber and Lyft – in fact, charing exactly one penny less than Uber or Lyft in cost per minute.

UPDATE: On June 6, 2017 around 1:00 a.m., Fare sent an email to all Austin customers announcing that due to the increased competition, they were “unable to endure the recent loss of business” and stopped operations in Austin – only eight days after Uber and Lyft return to Austin.

If you open the app, it may still appear operational. However, if you attempt to hail or schedule a ride, you’ll receive an error message alerting you that you are outside the region in which Fare operates.

fare leaves when uber and lyft return to austin

Ride Austin also sent an email appeal to their customers, saying, “With the corporate rideshare giants back in town and typical summer slowdown, we have seen a 36% decline in our ride volume this week in relation to last week. We’ve had Austin’s back – and now we need YOUR help to keep our local nonprofit alive.” The company donates hundreds of thousands of dollars to Austin charities, and shared a breakdown in their email.

rideshare for the city: uber and lyft return to austin

On Monday, May 29, Uber and Lyft returned to Austin, Texas.

Why did Uber and Lyft leave Austin to begin with?

In 2016, Uber and Lyft pulled service from Austin due to restrictions stemming from city legislation, among which included a requirement for fingerprint-based background checks for drivers. In late May 2017, Texas Governor Greg Abbot signed HB100, a sweeping statewide bill which overrides the city of Austin’s rules, therefore allowing Uber and Lyft to rush back into Austin.

During their year-long absence, a number of alternative options were available to Austinites. Fasten, Fare and Ride Austin are among the companies that have been serving Austin for the past year – and even earlier. All state they plan to continue to operate, even with the reintegration of the behemoth rideshare companies.

What do Ride Austin and Fasten drivers think now that Uber and Lyft are back? Would they consider driving for those companies instead of, or in addition to, their current employers? What does it mean that Uber and Lyft are back in Austin? As Austin is The Zebra‘s hometown, we’re getting initial reactions from drivers and riders and will be updating this post over the next month or two to see if Lyft and Uber are getting a warm welcome back…or not.

Do drivers make more money driving for Uber/Lyft or Fasten/Fare/Ride Austin?

Drivers tell us overwhelmingly that they make much higher incomes driving for Ride Austin, Fare, and Fasten, than with Uber or Lyft.

Ride Austin – a nonprofit – pays its drivers the highest percentage of the total fare and allows riders the option to donate to local Austin charities with each ride. According to Ride Austin COO Marisa Goldenberg, the company paid its drivers $5 million more in the past year than they would have received under Uber and Lyft’s commission structures. In addition, Ride Austin is looking to launch a crowdfunding campaign to fund a pilot program for W-2 employee drivers, which will afford them a “generous benefits package.” 

Fasten, Ride Austin and Lyft all allow riders to tip their drivers in the app, whereas Uber does not. This causes plenty of drivers to favor those companies over Uber. (Confused about how much you should tip rideshare drivers? Read our take.)

Current Austin Fasten driver (and former Uber driver) Ronald says, “I’m fine with Uber coming back, but I hope Fasten sticks around. They pay their drivers better.”

Ride Austin is a non-profit option and plans to offer its drivers benefits.

What will happen to other ridesharing companies as Uber and Lyft return to Austin?

For those who believe Fare, Fasten and Ride Austin’s days are numbered, these are their reasons:

Reason 1: Uber and Lyft have better apps

Bryan, a newly minted Lyft driver in Austin shares, “I think Fare and Fasten are done for. Uber and Lyft have too much name recognition, not to mention better apps. I’ve used Fare, Fasten and Ride Austin as a driver and each of their apps glitch or crash altogether; it’s so frustrating.”

Reason 2: Uber and Lyft have the national (and even international) brand recognition

When you want to take a rideshare somewhere, most people think of Uber or Lyft. In fact, many people use “uber” as a verb: “I’ll uber to the restaurant and meet you there.”

Yet for an entire year in Austin, visitors would land at the airport, open their Uber or Lyft apps to see messages informing them they were not operating in Austin, and wonder how they would get a ride downtown. Fare, Fasten and Ride Austin never gained recognition even close to the level of Uber or Lyft, and that could spell their demise in the city.

Reason 3: Uber and Lyft are massive companies with political pull

One driver for Ride Austin shares this dooming prediction on Reddit, “Ride Austin was simply not built to survive against Uber and Lyft, and there’s really nothing anyone can do about it…They made no effort to be on Uber or Lyft’s level. You’re dealing with two companies that fight incredibly hard to dominate. There’s no way you can limp into this business and expect to survive. You have to fight just as hard.”

messages from uber: uber and lyft return to austin
Uber added a personalized “Back in Austin” message to its app Monday, May 29.

And for those who predict struggles for when Uber and Lyft return to Austin, they cite drivers holding a grudge against the companies.

Fasten driver Ronald says that he would have gladly submitted to a fingerprint-based background check when driving for Uber, and had no problem doing so in order to drive with Fasten after Uber left.

Many drivers for Fare, Fasten and Ride Austin agree. The background checks were not deterrents for them when driving with Uber and Lyft, so when the city’s rule enforcing these checks passed, they drivers believe Uber and Lyft should have complied, rather than shutting down operations and putting them out of jobs.

Plus, is the city adding its own ride-hailing options?

Austin’s Capital Metro announced last week that it is launching a free, on-demand ride hailing bus service as part of a pilot program, called Pickup. Running three days a week, this service is an ridesharing and driving alternative to Austinites in the Mueller, Windsor Park and Coronado Hills neighborhoods.

Will Austin drivers benefit from Uber and Lyft’s return?

A lot of drivers seem to think Austin is better off with Uber and Lyft. One Uber driver shared that he was hopeful for more business. Citing Austin’s popularity with tourists, he expects more business driving for Uber than for a local company because out-of-towners are more likely to use Uber already.

“I’m kind of looking forward to [Uber and Lyft] being back. They’re not the greatest companies but I’m tired of being ripped off by Ride Austin’s drivers,” shares one unhappy Austin Redditor, who alleges they’ve been charged unfairly for rides based on app malfunctions.

uber and lyft return to austin
Fasten offers promotions to keep riders from switching back to Uber and Lyft

New rideshare drivers have lots of questions

Drivers who only began work in the rideshare space after Lyft and Uber left have lots of questions. Will Uber and Lyft’s app be more reliable and accurate? Will there be more resources for riders, since the companies are so much larger? Will Austinites want to stay local and “keep Austin weird?” Will there be any backlash that may make riders shy away from using Uber, since the company incurred some bad publicity in the past several months (accusations include sexual harassment and intellectual property theft)?

We’ll keep you posted on the response after Uber and Lyft get back into their Austin stride. Share your Austin rideshare experiences with us online at @TheZebraCo.

  • Shawn Keen-Murray

    And already Fare is out the door