The taxi-driver lobby has been unsuccessful in their fight against ridesharing companies across the country. People have come to be dependant on low cost, reliable and convenient transportation provided by ride sharing companies.
But when the Austin City Council passed an ordinance requiring fingerprinting for their drivers, Uber and Lyft stumbled. They fought it tooth and nail when they could have tried to show how they could make government work better.
They initiated an $8 million dollar campaign against this ordinance where they tried to replace fingerprinting with background checks. On top of this, their proposition wanted to disregard a requirement for Uber and Lyft cars to be identified by markets and legalize the practice picking up passengers in travel lanes and bus stops.
Citizens of Austin felt like they were being bullied by rich outside companies. People pointed out that Houston required fingerprinting from 2014 and Uber and Lyft still operate there. Others felt that the companies were asking too much of the city. Uber and Lyft's attempt to overturn the city council at the ballot box failed with 56% of the people voting against it.
Since then, Uber and Lyft called the voter's bluff and are no longer operating in the city. Some makeshift websites that operate under the table have popped up to provide drivers with income and passengers with rides, but it is less convenient and less safe. And since hailing a ride has gotten less accessible, more people are making bad decisions about drinking and driving.
So the ridesharing companies have made Austin a warning to other cities: Interfere with our business at your own risk. But this didn't have to be the message. Uber often calls itself a logistics company. Fingerprinting new drivers is a simple logistics problem. If their biggest problem with Austin's ordinance was actually being banned from stopping in travel lanes, then they could have made the proposition about that and campaigned accordingly. If electronic fingerprint readers are more efficient and easier to apply to their drivers, they could have lobbied to let them help modernize Austin's government while giving new drivers a grace period before they had to be officially fingerprinted.
If they had turned the Austin situation into one in which Uber and Lyft took an inefficient government regulation and made it more convenient for everyone, we would be talking about why Uber doesn't replace or supplement the provision of other quasi-government services. More people would be talking about how Uber is going to take over the world.
Instead they are attempting to maximize profits and status in the short term as they attempt to scare governments into compliance. Maybe the people of Austin will realize their mistake and try to welcome Uber and Lyft back into the city in one of the next few elections. It will be a short term victory, preserving their status quo as the incumbent transportation providers. But with self driving cars around the corner, Uber and Lyft are not necessarily the companies who will own that technology. Disruption will come for current transportation company incumbents sooner than it came for the taxi cartels. Austin could have been an opportunity to show that they will succeed in areas outside of ridesharing, but they made it a problem instead.