After Departure Of Uber, Lyft In Austin, New Companies Enter The Void

May 26, 2016
Originally published on May 26, 2016 7:59 pm
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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Austin, Texas, is known for its great bars and great music but not for its great public transportation. Up until recently, if you didn't want to drink and drive in Austin, you took a ride-hailing service like Uber or Lyft. Now Uber and Lyft have left Austin after voters made fingerprinting a requirement for drivers. Audrey McGlinchy of member station KUT reports on how Austin residents are getting around.

(CROSSTALK)

AUDREY MCGLINCHY, BYLINE: Tom Atchity and his wife, Juliet, are sitting outside bar Cheer Up Charlie's away from the noise of a three-band lineup. Atchity and his wife drove to the bar, but drinking and driving is always a concern, and Atchity tells me he would've taken an Uber or Lyft had one been available.

TOM ATCHITY: I certainly have kind of kept all of my going out and drinking very local - you know, within walking distance around our house. We're lucky enough in Austin, at least in our neighborhood, that we can do that, but I definitely kind of changed our plans a couple times for it.

MCGLINCHY: Austin's not known for its public transportation. Bus stops are infrequent and routes limited. A small number of cabs have trouble servicing the city, and wait times are notoriously long, and fares are high.

Without Uber and Lyft, newer ride-hailing companies are scrambling to fill the gap. Here at Cheer Up Charlie's, only one of the nearly dozen people I approach has tried a new service. But all seem curious, both riders and drivers.

CARLTON THOMAS: I'm looking for the next four people that are interested Wingz, Wingz.

MCGLINCHY: Carlton Thomas is with the Austin Transportation Department, and he's trying to connect former Uber and Lyft drivers with new companies at a city-run fair. Dana Lillard was there early - nearly an hour before the fair opened at 10 a.m. Lines were already long, confusion high.

DANA LILLARD: What do we do? You know, where do we go? How do we handle this?

LILLARD: I'm now in Lillard's car with her in between pickups. She worked full-time for Uber and Lyft before they left town. Now she drives for Fare, one of the many newcomers. We stare at her phone, looking for a ride request to pop up. We sit, and we wait.

LILLARD: We've been sitting here for probably 10 minutes now, and no requests have popped up since I've been signed on to the app.

MCGLINCHY: Lillard discovers that her app was silent because of a technical glitch, and that's characteristic of these ride-hailing newbies. Companies have jumped to fill the void, trying to scale up to the size of Uber and Lyft in a matter of weeks. Among them are Wingz, Get Me and Fasten plus a local effort called RideAustin.

But riders complain about long wait times or needing to schedule rides hours in advance. As a result, some have started soliciting rides on craigslist or a local Facebook group. Responding drivers post their now-defunct Uber or Lyft profiles, trying to create order in a city thrust into commuter chaos.

Back at the bar, Danielle Garza says she drove her car downtown, but she's planning on having a few more drinks.

DANIELLE GARZA: I honestly, until this moment, haven't really thought about how I'm going to get home. That's a great question.

MCGLINCHY: I called Garza the next morning to see how she got home.

(SOUNDBITE OF RINGBACK TONE)

GARZA: Hello.

MCGLINCHY: Hey, is this Danielle?

Garza left the bar before midnight and hailed a cab on the street. But she says she called it an early night knowing a cab would be more available at that time. Will she try any of these new apps? Maybe, she says.

In the meantime, two more ride-hailing companies have arrived, and as riders grasp for a new service, these recent startups are also on the lookout for former Uber and Lyft customers. For NPR News, I'm Audrey McGlinchy in Austin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.