Keep Austin Weird vs Ride-Hailing Giants

The Forrest Four-Cast: June 8, 2017

In May 2016, Uber and Lyft abruptly departed Austin as a way to voice their opposition to a city-implemented regulation that both companies felt would hinder their business model.

Both of these ride-hailing giants came back in early June, thanks to statewide legislation that nullified this local ordinance. Their return is reminiscent of the parable of the Prodigal Son(s), as both companies have been enthusiastically re-embraced despite their ugly departure last year. Even Uber’s ongoing PR nightmares haven’t significantly deterred its swift re-ascendency in River City.

The first casualty of this return has been the Phoenix-based ride-hailing company Fare, which ceased operations here on June 6. Maybe their demise was long overdue, as local customers didn’t seem overly impressed with their level or quality of service.

I’m hoping that RideAustin won’t suffer the same fate and that it can retain a portion of the Central Texas market. An independently-organized effort that organically came together quickly in response to the departure of Uber and Lyft, this innovative service shares its revenues with local non-profits. Even within some of the challenges it has faced to meet demand, RideAustin has been a shining affirmation of the talent, depth and vision of the local startup ecosystem — what Silicon Valley can do, we can do pretty well also.

Yes, having the expertise and scale of Uber and Lyft during March will help us avoid the kind of extreme challenges that plagued SXSW 2017. Moreover, consumers’ fast re-adoption of these two ride-hailing giants re-affirms that speed and quality of service is ultimately much more important than culture when choosing how to get from Point A to Point B. Or, perhaps the ever-growing amount of out-of-town visitors to the city always give a strong advantage to brands that have such established national and international name recognition.

Either way, the bottom line remains the same. The uniqueness of Austin will always be part of our DNA. But in 2017 and beyond, business efficiency is an equally important part of our identity.

Hugh Forrest tries to write at least four paragraphs per day on Medium. These posts often (but not always) cover technology-related trends. When not attempting to wordsmith or meditating, he serves as Chief Programming Officer at SXSW in Austin.

Keep Austin Weird vs Ride-Hailing Giants was originally published in Austin Startups on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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