Austin's new transportation network companies are still working out kinks in the system, but they are enabling people to get around, reporters at the Austin American-Statesman found. They road-tested seven apps vying to replace Uber and Lyft and found that they were generally more expensive, harder to use and suffered from a shortage of drivers. That said, the drivers were generally professional and knowledgeable of ride-hailing, many of them having worked for Uber and Lyft in Austin, and continuing to do so outside the city's limits, the reporters found.
Austin's new crop of ride-hailing services — many of which popped up as Uber and Lyft left — say they are more than willing to comply with Austin's new law. They consistently emphasize safety and the fair treatment of drivers.
For example, Wingz is a San Francisco-based start-up backed by Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff. Now in 12 U.S. cities, the company launched in Austin the day Uber and Lyft pulled the plug. Austin has quickly emerged as one its biggest markets, said CEO Chris Brandon.
As of the beginning of August, 75 percent of its drivers are fingerprinted, said Brandon. It handpicks drivers and provides them with $1 million in liability coverage, something some states have started to require of ride-hailing companies.
Another, Fasten, is a Boston-based start-up, with experience servicing college towns. It launched in Austin on June 1. 70 percent of riders who have tried the service become repeat customers and the average wait time is less than five minutes, said CEO Kirill Evdakov.
"The way Uber treats their drivers makes them want to switch to anything just to have an alternative," he said. "That's what accelerates our growth." At least 50 percent of its driver hours or miles are completed by drivers who have been fingerprinted, he said.
At least one non-profit has jumped in to pick up some of the slack. RideAustin, which launched on June 16, sends all of its profits either to drivers or reinvests them in the business. 89 percent of driver hours are performed by a fingerprinted person, said Joe Deshotel, RideAustin community engagement director.
The service has won support from riders and drivers for its community-based approach, said Deshotel.
"We don't think that having rock bottom prices is the key to success," said Deshotel. "We are hearing that from the drivers too — they are starting to drop off some of the other platforms because of that."
Drivers are also finding work via private Facebook groups, not all of which are operating entirely legally. The biggest — Arcade City Austin which has more than 39,000 members — has been subject to fines for failing to obtain a city license, the Statesman has reported. Smaller Austin Underground has more than 8,000 members. Riders post their location, destination and contact information and driver's scoop up rides, often sharing their defunct Uber and Lyft profiles.
The groups have developed their own hashtags with riders sometimes including #needaride and drivers replying #resolved when they have connected. Payments are made in a variety of ways including PayPal, Venmo, Square and cash and vary widely. Of course, there is no middle man to skim off drivers profits, and no one is checking anyone's background on the unregulated networks.