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.
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.”
What we reported
The American-Statesman provided in-depth reporting during the Proposition 1 campaign about the limitations of different kinds of background checks, the logistics of screening drivers and what the city’s law would entail. This story is part of our continuing coverage on the implications of the Proposition 1 election.
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Drivers invited to fair
The city of Austin and ride-hailing companies GetMe, Wingz and zTrip will host a driver fair at Austin Community College’s Highland campus Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. The event, which will run from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. each day in rooms 2211 and 2212, will provide a chance for prospective drivers to talk with ride-hailing and city representatives and to set up appointments for fingerprinting with MorphoTrust. Being fingerprinted, and the subsequent criminal background check by the FBI, will cost each applicant $39.95, the city said.