RideAustin Turns TNC Lemons into Lemonade

Proposition 1 failed and Uber and Lyft left town. Business is down at restaurants and bars and it sometimes takes 45 minutes to get a taxi. Members of the Austin community have launched a non-profit Transportation Network Company (TNC) called RideAustin to fill the void with a transparent, high quality, well funded solution whose only priority is Austin. Whether you voted for or against Proposition 1, now is the time for Austin to unite.

Some of us were for Proposition 1, but more people voted against it. Different people had different reasons but that doesn’t change where we are today — at an impasse where Uber and Lyft say they won’t come back under our current ordinance and the changes they require are not acceptable to City Council. Meanwhile, Austin has no TNC operating at scale and our transportation options suck.

The main issue was around fingerprinting of drivers, but the election was lost on egos and emotions. Uber and Lyft’s campaign tactics offended the City Council and many voters. There was no agreement about the safety benefits of fingerprinting or the practical implications on the TNC business model because we just don’t have enough information. There was a game of chicken with Uber and Lyft threatening to leave and many doubting that they would actually do it.

The repercussions are severe. We expect the economic impact will be hundreds of millions of dollars in the end. We are less safe than we were before because there are thousands of black-market drivers picking up riders on Facebook and Craigslist. Startup TNC’s are overwhelmed. People are pissed and it’s only going to get worse.

That’s why Austinites for and against Proposition 1 are coming together to create RideAustin — a non-profit TNC whose only priority is Austin. There are vast financial and technical resources assembled and they have been working around the clock since a few days after Proposition 1 failed. There is a long way to go, but I believe it’s off to an impressive start and we have early indications that they will be successful.

Why This Can Work

We’ve heard already about how challenging it would be for someone to come take the place of Uber and Lyft. Some of the challenges faced by startup TNC’s that have launched in response to Proposition 1 haven’t been encouraging. With so much regulatory risk, it’s hard to attract the venture capital investment needed to launch a TNC business.

However, a non-profit TNC has some unique advantages. It’s easier to fund because contributions are tax deductible and investors aren’t focused on a financial return so the risks are different. As a non-profit and community-focused solution it has extra press and goodwill needed to achieve critical mass quickly. With a single-metro focus it doesn’t have to always worry about “how will this scale to hundreds of cities?”

This is going to be really, really hard, but I’ve seen the current demo and product roadmap and I believe this team can deliver. — Joshua Baer

If it weren’t for the world-class technical team behind this project and significant financial contributions from Austin Tech leaders, we wouldn’t give this a second glance. Big thanks should go out to Andy Tryba and the team at Crossover for diverting their resources and burning the midnight oil to get this done. Others from both sides of the issue have also spent countless hours on it and contributed a lot.

It’s like Uber and Lyft walked away from a factory full of workers and a long list of repeat customers. If RideAustin can act quickly to provide a high-quality solution then we can walk into the empty factory and start it up again, capturing a large portion of the market in a short period of time for a fraction of the cost.

The solution has got to be great. The app needs to be reliable and the service needs to be dependable. It might not be quite as fast as Uber or quite as cheap as Lyft Line, but Austinites just need to know they can press a button anywhere in the city and have a safe, reliable ride within a few minutes.

Was this my first choice? No way. I wanted Proposition 1 to pass so that Uber and Lyft would still be operating like they were a few weeks ago. But Proposition 1 failed and now we are hurting. It’s time to focus on what’s next for Austin instead of waiting months or years for someone else to fix it.
 — Joshua Baer

Fully Compliant with Austin Regulations

RideAustin will comply with all Austin ridesharing regulations. Drivers will be fingerprinted and vehicles will be inspected. They will use trade dress and won’t be allowed to drop-off in bus lanes. We’ll put them to the test in a totally transparent way and see how they work.

Let the Light Shine In

As a non-profit, there is an opportunity for unprecedented transparency. Many of the debates around Proposition 1 went in circles because there just isn’t enough data about TNC usage. We don’t know enough about how many drivers there are, how many riders there are, or how they use the service. We don’t really know for sure whether TNC’s are safer than Taxis or not.

RideAustin will be completely transparent about all aspects of its operation and open the data up for research and study. In a few months we’ll all have a lot more answers and be able to have a more informed debate.

This is the opportunity for Austin to contribute to the global ridesharing debate. Let’s bring data to the table and answer some of these questions about safety and market dynamics definitively. We hope that researchers from all over the world use this data to learn more about urban mobility and make TNC’s even better.

All Solutions are Welcome

We believe we should support all transportation solutions that meet some basic criteria.

  • Get Drivers back on the road obeying city regulations
  • Get Riders the fast, safe and inexpensive transportation they have come to expect
  • Be transparent about safety
  • Don’t use city resources to pick winners and losers

This includes Uber, Lyft, GetMe and anyone else who wants to play along. Austinites should have multiple options.

Maybe we can do better than the duopoly that exists in most other markets around the world. Maybe the emergence of a free market in Austin — the only large city without Uber and Lyft — will attract the interest of other large technology players who want to enter the market. The obvious players are already here — Austin is already testing Google’s autonomous cars on the streets, Apple has their second largest office other than Cupertino here, and Mercedes launched Car2Go here. It’s not just small startups who will see this as an exciting opportunity.

We’re supporting RideAustin because it looks like the best option we’ve got and we’re not going to just sit around and do nothing. If you’ve got a better idea, we’re interested in supporting you, too. — Dan Graham

It’s Time to Stand Together for Austin

If you voted for Proposition 1 or against it, then you should support this community based initiative with your patronage and with your donations. Download the app to sign up as a rider or driver, post it to your Facebook Timeline or Twitter, and make a significant donation personally and from your company.

If you are an Austin-based business, you should pre-purchase travel credits for your employees or make a corporate donation. In order to launch successfully it takes up-front capital to hire drivers while both supply and demand builds.

This is the time for the Tech and Innovation Community to engage with the rest of our city and be part of the solution. We’re often criticized for not voting, not donating and only complaining when things don’t go our way. This isn’t just about Tech, but we should be the strongest supporters.

This is the perfect opportunity for the Austin Tech Community to work together with the rest of Austin to make Austin better.


Signed by

David Altounian
Motion Computing

Mason Arnold
Founder & Cookie Monster
Greenling & Veggie Noodle Co

Gene Austin

Joshua Baer
Founder & Executive Director
Capital Factory

Evan Baehr
Founder & CEO
Able Lending

John Berkowitz
Founder & CEO
Ojo Labs & Yodle

Bill Boebel
Founder & CEO
Pingboard & Webmail

Kevin Brand
CEO and Founder
(512) brewing company

Sara T Brand
Founding General Partner
True Wealth Ventures

Barbary Brunner
Austin Technology Council

Andrew Busey
Capital Factory

Maggie Louise Callahan
Founder & CEO
Maggie Louise Confections

Kevin Callahan

Clayton Christopher
Sweet Leaf Tea, Deep Eddy Vodka & CAVU Ventures

Chelsea Collier

Gordon Daugherty
Capital Factory

Sam Decker
Capital Factory & Mass Relevance (Spredfast)

Hugh Forrest
SXSW Interactive

Richard Garriott
Portalarium & Origin Systems

Arlo Gilbert

Dan Graham
Founder & CEO
BuildaSign & Notley Fund

Erik Huddleston

Brett Hurt
Data.world, Bazaarvoice & Coremetrics

Bryan Jones
Entrepreneur in Residence
Capital Factory

Josh Jones-Dilworth
Founder & CEO
Jones-Dilworth International

Ricky Joshi
Co-founder and CMO
Saatva Luxury Mattress

Laura Kilcrease
Managing Director
Triton Ventures

Joe Liemandt
Founder & CEO

Higinio O. Maycotte

Jack McDonald
Upland Software

Bryan Menell
Capital Factory

Mike Millard
Director of Innovation and Technology Commercialization
Ascension Health

Donald Park
Chief of Staff
Vista Equity Partners

Nate Paul
President & CEO
World Class Capital Group

John Price

Mellie Price
Front Gate Tickets, Softmatch & Capital Factory

Courtney Powell
Real HQ

Mike Rollins
Austin Chamber

Joe Ross
Co-Founder & President

Danielle Royston

Jan Ryan
Social Dynamx & Women@Austin

Fred Schmidt
Co-Founder & CEO
Wild About Music, Toy Joy & Austin Rocks Texas

Eugene Sepulveda
Entrepreneur’s Foundation of Central Texas

Venu Shamapant
General Partner
Live Oak Venture Partners

Amos Schwartzfarb
Managing Director
Techstars Austin

Justin Siegel
Founder & CEO
ATX Angel

Chris Skyles

Co-Founder & CEO

Sean Spector
Founder & CEO

Krishna Srinivasan
General Partner
Live Oak Venture Partners

Chris Taylor
Founder & CEO
Square Root

Rob Taylor

Charles Thornburgh
Founder & CEO
Civitas Learning

Kenny Tomlin
Founder & CEO
Rockfish Interactive

Michael Trafton
Capital Factory

Andy Tryba

Tyson Tuttle
Silicon Labs

Dustin Wells
Founder & CEO

Spencer Wells
Founder & CEO

Apologies to anyone who might feel left out — this came together very quickly! All are welcome to support. — Joshua Baer