Still Baron wrote:
The short answer is that Austin essentially told Uber to fuck off and they did, but they got everything they wanted from the moral and intellectual pygmies in the Texas Legislature a few months later and now Uber is back in Austin and the city can't say shit about it. I'll write more later, it's complicated.
The long(er) answer is that the Austin City Council required them to implement the same background check for drivers as the taxi companies were forced to use. Uber and Lyft didn't like that decision and paid millions to get enough signatures to force a special election with a ballot initiative for the people to vote on the issue and possibly override the City Council. It was the most expensive local campaign in history. Obviously, the expense for Uber that came from the different background checks was not the issue. They were taking a stand in Austin to show other municipalities that they weren't to be trifled with. The campaign for the initiative was really nasty and they framed the issue of them being kicked out of Austin, when of course they were making a business choice not to operate here if they didn't get their way. There was all manner of inaccurate and disingenuous information put out and the ballot measure was rejected, presumably because there were enough old hippies who didn't like the tone of a California tech company coming into town and bullying to get their way over what was ultimately not a big issue. When they lost the election their app went dark in the city limits and they pulled out of town (along with Lyft, the perennial second-banana). There was the typical gnashing of teeth and rending of garments on the part of millennials and right wingers about how Austin is hostile to business and innovation and the rest of it and how we'll never assume our rightful place as a forward thinking tech leader and all that. Of course, when the Texas Legislature next convened (they meet for six months every two years) the Uber and Lyft lobbyists were ready and a bill passed streamlining the regulation, pre-empting more onerous local regulations.
Before all that, I used Uber a lot. It is a great service. This town's cabs were never where you needed one and then they were expensive. Our bus system is fine if you're going certain places at certain times, but it can be highly inconvenient and impractical on a night out (i.e., when you aren't commuting). The Uber service was excellent. It worked perfectly, there was always a car ready VERY shortly, you didn't have to go through a transaction with the driver, you just got in and got out, and the drivers were always friendly (and happy) and in decent cars, and the app was great. But I haven't used them since. They can fuck off. Their behavior in Austin was appalling and as a corporation, they've played more than a few dirty tricks. I wouldn't rule out using them in another city at some point in the future if it was necessary, but it's a convenience that we certainly enjoyed, but can also live without.
Major cities in the UK and Europe with a much greater appetite for regulation than even the most liberal American cities will have to be ready to draw a line with them. And stand fast. They'll be back with buckets of money and publicity. And for all the complaining about Uber I've seen on FB and here, I'm certain that there are many, many Londoners who are very upset to see them go. Like I said, it's a great service, and, at least around here, far superior to the taxis. With that said, the basic technology and idea is easily adaptable, and it's definitely made the taxi service here better. The basic idea behind Uber will win out in the end. The question is, on whose terms?