- Ben Wear American-Statesman Staff
The final tab for the failed attempt by Uber and Lyft to change Austin’s ride-hailing law: $10.3 million.
Ridesharing Works for Austin, the political action committee wholly funded by the two ride-hailing giants in their effort to pass a substitute city ordinance May 7, raised another $3.2 million between April 28 and July 15, according to a campaign finance report filed Friday. That included about $2.5 million in cash from Uber and just over $650,000 of in-kind donations by both companies.
Taking into account three other campaign finance reports filed before the election, that brought the combined money raised to $10.3 million. That is more than seven times the largest amount spent previously for a city of Austin election and 57 times the total spent by Our City, Our Safety, Our Choice, the political action committee that opposed Proposition 1.
“It was the best thing they could have done for us,” said Austin political consultant Dean Rindy, who worked on the campaign in opposition to Prop 1. “Every extra million they spent was more evidence that what we said was right, that corporations were trying to buy City Hall.”
That oppositional committee reported raising $56,115 in the last reporting period. The group spent a total of $181,557 during the campaign and is still carrying a $22,000 debt.
Proposition 1 was rejected May 7 by 55.7 percent of the electorate, getting 39,109 “yes” votes to 49,208 “no” votes. That means Uber and Lyft spent about $264 for each vote for the proposition.
Uber, in an emailed statement from spokeswoman Jaime Moore, remained resolutely in campaign mode.
“Uber opposes fingerprint-based background checks because of their discriminatory impacts on minority communities and their reliance on incomplete databases,” the statement said, in part. “We strive to screen drivers using up-to-date driving and criminal history records. … Across the U.S., over 30 states and dozens of cities have embraced our safety practices.”
Uber and Lyft were trying to overturn a law passed by the Austin City Council in December stiffening regulations on ride-hailing services in Austin. An earlier law, passed in October 2014 by the previous council, had been to Lyft’s and Uber’s liking and, among other elements, did not require drivers to be fingerprinted for criminal background checks, as is the case with other rides-for-hire drivers in Austin.
The companies contended that their database background checks, based on identifying documents such as driver’s licenses, were sufficient to vet drivers. The companies also objected to other elements in the December law, including increased requirements for reporting financial and ride data.
Ridesharing Works and the substitute ordinance (modeled on the 2014 city law) materialized later in December, and in just three weeks the group gathered more than enough signatures to force a public vote on a replacement law.
Given the unprecedented expenditures by Ridesharing Works, primarily on television commercials that blanketed Austin air waves and slick fliers that arrived day after day in mailboxes, Proposition 1 would have seemed to be headed toward passage. Uber and Lyft officials, meanwhile, said the companies would shut down their apps within Austin if Proposition 1 failed, upping the stakes.
Voters said “no” anyway. Uber and Lyft went dark in Austin two days later.
More than a half-dozen smaller operators, including a nonprofit ride-hailing company formed by Austin tech leaders, have rushed in to fill the void left by the two companies. Those companies have agreed to abide by the December law.
Uber and Lyft are still picking up riders, legally, beyond the Austin city limit line, and many of them later make their way back using one of the new companies’ drivers.