Ride-hailing apps Uber and Lyft exited Austin last May, meaning hundreds of thousands of attendees at the currently running South By Southwest festival are seeking new ways to get around the Texas capital. Unfortunately, some say the companies trying to fill the Uber/Lyft void are not ready for the big time.
Last year, Austin adopted an ordinance that required ride-hailing services operating in the city to perform background checks on their drivers that included fingerprinting. City residents voted down a ballot measure that would have overturned the ordinance, and Uber and Lyft left town in response, leaving their drivers without work with no warning.
With the two biggest names in ridesharing gone, some smaller providers were willing to comply with the new rules. A massive event like SXSW — which brings tech influencers, musicians, Hollywood celebrities, and hordes of media into Austin each year — would seem to be the perfect place for one of these upstart startups to make their name. It looks like festival-goers will be remembering their rides, but not for a good reason.
Bloomberg Technology reports that leading apps Fasten and RideAustin failed passengers just as the services were needed most, as people traveled between parties on Saturday night and it started to rain.
“It wasn’t the greatest page in our history,” Fasten CEO Kirill Evdakov told Bloomberg. “Hopefully we can regain the trust.” The company was planning to raise funds to expand to more cities if the festival week had gone well. Instead, the app reportedly faced twelve times its normal demand, when the team had planned for five times its normal demand.
While the festival continues for the rest of this week, the bad impression left on Saturday night will probably stick with festival-goers, who are digital influencer types with large Twitter followings.
Drivers, ever-resourceful, came up with their own, more direct methods to get passengers and fill in the gaps. They put their phone numbers out there. That’s not a very efficient system, but it’s more efficient than trying to use an app that won’t load.
Customers reported a variety of payment problems, too. The obvious one likely would have happened if Uber and Lyft were still around: The services raised fares to adjust the market by attracting more drivers.
Other riders reported being charged for rides from drivers that never showed, according to Bloomberg.
For riders concerned about Uber’s treatment of drivers or its own employees, though, it’s notable that the two leaders in Austin have a different business model. RideAustin is a nonprofit, while Fasten only takes a $.99 commission from each ride, benefiting drivers.