Austinites will vote next week on how to regulate ridesharing companies in the city (early voting began Monday). On the ballot is Proposition 1, which would continue the ridesharing regulations currently in place and pre-empt a new pending set of rules approved by the City Council late last year.
Uber and Lyft (the two main ridesharing companies) consider the new regulations unjustifiably burdensome, and have announced that they will suspend operations in the city unless Proposition 1 passes (I’ve written about some of the issues with the new regulations here).
Aside from the specifics of the different regulations, many see the battle over Proposition 1 as symbolic of Austin’s openness to new technologies and business models in general. The latest voice to weigh in is the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has suggested that forcing ridesharing out of the city could undermine Austin’s bid to win the Smart City Challenge:
In a letter to U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce writes, if Uber and Lyft leave Austin that will be a setback for the Smart City approach. The ridesharing companies have threatened to leave if voters support an ordinance to fingerprint drivers as a background check.
Austin was one of seven cities selected as finalists for the Smart City Challenge. Victory means not just bragging rights, but also $50 million.
Whether the failure of Proposition 1 would mean Austin will lose the Smart City Challenge is unclear. But it would mean an end to Uber and Lyft in Austin. Given the (often lifesaving) value that ridesharing brings to cities like Austin – that, in and of itself, is pretty significant.