How Austin residents are getting around in a post-Uber world


After a car wreck last year put Akhila Sivakumar in the hospital for more than a month and left her with burns and bruises across her body, she was hesitant to drive again. So when the 22-year-old began to look for jobs from College Station, she looked in cities where Uber and Lyft were popular.

“I specifically chose Austin because with the ride sharing … I figured it would be easy to get around without a car,” she said.

It was. Until last week.

Sivakumar was one of many regular customers of ride-hailing apps who have recently turned to Craigslist or Facebook groups to find former Lyft and Uber drivers. The companies left town abruptly after a May 7 election upheld new city requirements for fingerprint-based background checks for drivers with the ride-hailing apps. Uber and Lyft had sought passage of Proposition 1 to overturn the rules.

Officer Destiny Winston, an Austin police spokeswoman, said residents should do background research when answering any online ad. In particular, she said, getting into a car with a stranger is a risk. And such transactions could be illegal for the drivers: The city has sent warning emails telling drivers offering their services online that they could face a $500 fine if they don’t have the proper permits.

Sara LeVine, executive director of ATX Safer Streets, which campaigned in favor of Proposition 1, said this rider-driver free-for-all shows the City Council’s rules have backfired.

“Before, you knew who your driver was; you could track your route. Now it’s straight-up gypsy cabs,” she said. “If the city’s whole mission with fingerprinting was to make us safer, how have their actions made it safer?”

Needing rides now

The city is offering events this week to help drivers sign up with other transportation services, and the council will consider a resolution Thursday directing staffers to help other companies fill the void left by the two ride-hailing giants. But those efforts will take time, and people like Sivakumar are looking for rides now.

Sivakumar placed a Craigslist post online offering to pay $20 each way for someone to take her 15 miles to and from work every day. She received responses from what she called Craigslist “creepers,” and from out-of-work drivers. She reached an agreement with one, only to have him cancel after he received the warning email from the city.

Sivakumar doesn’t know what to do now.

Zuli Hinojosa, 23, relied on Lyft for all of her transportation, including getting to classes at the University of Texas every day. She was left without a good way to go grocery shopping, had to cancel weekend plans and was facing a 1½-hour bus ride for a hair appointment.

She’s saddened by the flood of responses she’s gotten from drivers to her Craigslist post, begging her to give their phone numbers to friends. Because she feels less safe finding drivers that way, she picked the only woman to respond.

Left stranded

Scores of Austin residents took to social media during the weekend and Monday to complain about difficulties getting a ride with smaller services or cabbies. Some reported searching for an hour or more for a car after public transportation stopped running.

A couple of people said they had been denied rides by cabbies who didn’t want to take them a short distance. The city has not received any formal complaints this week.

A nonscientific survey of 2,090 American-Statesman readers Monday found that 63 percent said they didn’t go out last weekend because of difficulty finding a ride.

One resident who’s staying home more is Boone Blocker, who used Uber regularly. Blocker, an advocate for people with disabilities and a transportation activist who campaigned in favor of Proposition 1, could get rides in his wheelchair via a special service for people with physical disabilities.

Blocker still gets to work via bus, as he always did. But it’s more difficult for him to go out at night or in bad weather, so he passed on a concert and evening activities with friends last week.

“It’s been a little bit isolating,” he said.

Hits and misses

Some have had success with online postings.

Barry Barksdale said he and his wife began using Lyft when they would go out to dinner after lecturing their four adult children never to drink and drive. After the election, he posted a Craigslist ad asking for a driver who could show an Uber/Lyft background check to work a couple of nights per week.

He received nearly 100 responses, Barksdale said. He found a driver in his own neighborhood and has been happy with her, he said. His son, who used Uber and Lyft daily to commute to college, joined a car-sharing service.

Abie Ikhinmwin, 27, sold his car last year to save money for law school. He took Uber and Lyft daily to get from Allandale to two jobs in Central and Southwest Austin.

Last week, he said, was “an absolute nightmare.” He failed to get rides from Yellow Cab and the smaller ride-sharing firm GetMe. He was an hour and a half late to one job. He had to beg for rides from co-workers. He started using Uber and Lyft in the first place because there were no other good transportation options, he said.

Now, he’s giving Craigslist a try.

“It’s basically come down to being the app myself,” he said. “I know there are people out there who need money and are willing to drive me places. It’s just a matter of finding them.”



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Local

Filing taxes? Here's how a government shutdown impacts the process
Filing taxes? Here's how a government shutdown impacts the process

Millions of Americans are ready to file their 1040s when the tax season opens Jan. 29 , but will the Internal Revenue service be open to process them? And how long will it take to get a refund? When Congress failed to agree on a funding bill early Saturday, the U.S. government officially ran out of money for the fiscal year and shut down, triggering...
WEATHER: Fifty percent chance of rain on a warm Sunday
WEATHER: Fifty percent chance of rain on a warm Sunday

Sunday is expected to be cloudy with a high of 72 degrees and a 50 percent chance of rain, according to the National Weather Service. The morning’s patchy fog is expected to lift from the Austin area around 10 a.m. Precipitation amounts between a tenth and a quarter of an inch are possible Sunday. The chance of showers is expected to drop Sunday...
Community news: TreeFolks to give away trees Saturday

TRAVIS COUNTY NORTH AUSTIN TreeFolks to give away trees TreeFolks will distribute 1,200 fruit and shade trees to Austin Energy customers from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday at the Austin Community College Northridge Campus, 11928 Stonehollow Drive, in the first tree giveaway of 2018. Free trees are available for Austin Energy customers, who may bring their...
Williamson sheriff gets approval for deputies to be on ‘Live PD’ show
Williamson sheriff gets approval for deputies to be on ‘Live PD’ show

Williamson County sheriff’s deputies might get to show how they roll on prime-time TV. The Williamson County Commissioners Court gave its approval Thursday to the sheriff’s office to negotiate a contract with a television show that does live recordings of law enforcement on their daily calls. The show, called “Live PD,” is broadcast...
PolitiFact: Teachers don’t have college degrees? Give than an F
PolitiFact: Teachers don’t have college degrees? Give than an F

Andrew White, a Democratic candidate for Texas governor who’s called for $5,000 pay raises for public school teachers, declared that half of the state’s newest teachers lack college degrees. White, a Houston investor, said, “I know this: One way to fix education is to pay teachers more, so that we can attract the best teachers and...
More Stories