Lyft's Austin campaign with a human face ultimately comes up short

The ride-hailing service and rival Uber threw their weight behind defeating regulations that called for greater restrictions on their drivers but ultimately failed at the ballot box.

Lyft gave its blog a human touch, but ultimately failed to turn out the voters it needed. (Image via Lyft's blog).
Lyft gave its blog a human touch, but ultimately failed to turn out the voters it needed. (Image via Lyft's blog).

Public safety concerns continue to nag ride-hailing companies such as Uber and Lyft, which pushed a costly, and ultimately failed, proposition in Austin, Texas, to overturn regulations requiring extensive background checks on drivers.

Both companies ceased operating in Texas’ capital on Monday.

Besides mounting an expensive ($8.6 million) political campaign, with the lion’s share going to a PAC called Ridesharing Works for Austin, Lyft also put a human face on the push with its blog.

The company highlighted the benefits it provides to employees who need a flexible schedule, such as a special needs parent named Kelly, one of three Austin-based drivers featured on the blog.

"I’ve been driving for two years now, and it’s been a lifesaver," Kelly said via the blog. "If my daughter’s having trouble and I need to have a week where I drive less or don’t drive at all, I can do that."

It also featured Kyle, another Lyft driver who founded RideCares, which allows both Lyft and Uber drivers to share their tips with charitable causes.

"I had raised somewhere around $1,200 on my own when my friends started telling me that I should figure out a way to get more drivers involved," Kyle said in the blog post. "Being a web developer and seeing an opportunity, I built RideCares so that other drivers could give a portion of their earnings and tips to causes that they are passionate about."

Uber also runs a newsroom in each city it operates, but the content produced hasn’t focused on Prop 1.

Throughout Saturday, the Austin offices of both Uber and Lyft encouraged voters on Twitter to turn out for Prop 1. But in the end, 56% of Austin voters called the ride-sharing apps’ bluff at the polls.

An Uber spokesman confirmed the company shut down operations in Austin on Monday morning. A Lyft representative was not available for comment.

"Unfortunately, the rules passed by City Council don't allow true ridesharing to operate," Lyft said in a statement. "Because of this, we have to take a stand for a long-term path forward that lets ridesharing continue to grow across the country, and will pause operations in Austin on Monday, May 9."

 "Disappointment does not begin to describe how we feel about shutting down operations in Austin," said Chris Nakutis, GM of Uber Austin, in a prepared statement. "We hope the City Council will reconsider their ordinance so we can work together to make the streets of Austin a safer place for everyone."

The most contentious of the regulations the ride-hailing services were trying to overturn are fingerprint-based background checks designed to find people with criminal records. The companies are fighting similar rules across the country.

In 2014, Houston passed even more restrictive rules that caused Lyft to exit the market and Uber to threaten to leave, as well. Chicago, Atlanta, and Los Angeles are considering similar rules.

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