3 Key TNC Features Missing in Austin After Prop 1
The fallout from Austin’s Prop 1 “Ridesharing” election highlights three aspects of Transportation Network Companies (TNCs) Austin is now missing. Three pivotal characteristics contribute to their success for passengers, drivers, and even those who don’t use them.
Those who dislike when “ridesharing” is used to describe Lyft and Uber can celebrate that the only apps left in Austin are not attempting to promote carpooling. Lyft and Uber offer affordable, shared carpool rides, while taxis and “tech-taxis” like GetMe/FARE/RideAustin currently offer rides from point A to point B for wealthier folks at 2-4X the price. Should I mention that the Lyft Line “destination filter” allows drivers to pickup travelers heading the same direction on trips people already make? In my mind, a culture of sharing rides could be just as important to ground transportation as the commonly exalted autonomous car. (And sharing rides doesn’t cost someone a source of income!)
Surge pricing is a commonly underappreciated mechanism that allows TNCs to offer much more affordable rides for a vast majority of the time while taxing the impatient rich during short, peak times. Despite all the negativity surrounding surge pricing, it provides drivers a needed income boost for driving at less appealing times/areas and dis-incentivizes passengers from taking rides at times that would contribute to congestion.
A third key to affordable rides is the availability of drivers. Driving excess miles to pick up a passenger pollutes and costs drivers previous time and money. However, if a closer driver makes that pickup, a driver can wait for a less costly, more efficient nearby trip. Availability is a primary crux of the fingerprint background check issue. Without part-time drivers scattered across neighborhoods, sharing their commutes or other solo driving, and ready to scale up for Austin’s busy events (ACL, SXSW, Holidays, etc.) TNCs are unable to provide affordable rides to under-served neighborhoods nor when people need them most.
Surge pricing, availability, and shared rides allow TNCs to offer rides for a third of the price a taxi, and yet for drivers to earn more than taxi drivers.
It’s debatable whether spending the city’s time and new TNC fee money on fingerprinting drivers is even in the top ten ways to spend on safety in Austin, but for the time being, it did make TNCs less environmentally friendly, ensured that only wealthier demographics can use them, and sent a necessary income source for many families into flux.