Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

After Departure Of Uber, Lyft In Austin, New Companies Enter The Void


Austin, Texas, is known for its great bars and great music but not for its great public transportation. Up until recently, if you didn't want to drink and drive in Austin, you took a ride-hailing service like Uber or Lyft. Now Uber and Lyft have left Austin after voters made fingerprinting a requirement for drivers. Audrey McGlinchy of member station KUT reports on how Austin residents are getting around.


AUDREY MCGLINCHY, BYLINE: Tom Atchity and his wife, Juliet, are sitting outside bar Cheer Up Charlie's away from the noise of a three-band lineup. Atchity and his wife drove to the bar, but drinking and driving is always a concern, and Atchity tells me he would've taken an Uber or Lyft had one been available.

TOM ATCHITY: I certainly have kind of kept all of my going out and drinking very local - you know, within walking distance around our house. We're lucky enough in Austin, at least in our neighborhood, that we can do that, but I definitely kind of changed our plans a couple times for it.

MCGLINCHY: Austin's not known for its public transportation. Bus stops are infrequent and routes limited. A small number of cabs have trouble servicing the city, and wait times are notoriously long, and fares are high.

Without Uber and Lyft, newer ride-hailing companies are scrambling to fill the gap. Here at Cheer Up Charlie's, only one of the nearly dozen people I approach has tried a new service. But all seem curious, both riders and drivers.

CARLTON THOMAS: I'm looking for the next four people that are interested Wingz, Wingz.

MCGLINCHY: Carlton Thomas is with the Austin Transportation Department, and he's trying to connect former Uber and Lyft drivers with new companies at a city-run fair. Dana Lillard was there early - nearly an hour before the fair opened at 10 a.m. Lines were already long, confusion high.

DANA LILLARD: What do we do? You know, where do we go? How do we handle this?

LILLARD: I'm now in Lillard's car with her in between pickups. She worked full-time for Uber and Lyft before they left town. Now she drives for Fare, one of the many newcomers. We stare at her phone, looking for a ride request to pop up. We sit, and we wait.

LILLARD: We've been sitting here for probably 10 minutes now, and no requests have popped up since I've been signed on to the app.

MCGLINCHY: Lillard discovers that her app was silent because of a technical glitch, and that's characteristic of these ride-hailing newbies. Companies have jumped to fill the void, trying to scale up to the size of Uber and Lyft in a matter of weeks. Among them are Wingz, Get Me and Fasten plus a local effort called RideAustin.

But riders complain about long wait times or needing to schedule rides hours in advance. As a result, some have started soliciting rides on craigslist or a local Facebook group. Responding drivers post their now-defunct Uber or Lyft profiles, trying to create order in a city thrust into commuter chaos.

Back at the bar, Danielle Garza says she drove her car downtown, but she's planning on having a few more drinks.

DANIELLE GARZA: I honestly, until this moment, haven't really thought about how I'm going to get home. That's a great question.

MCGLINCHY: I called Garza the next morning to see how she got home.


GARZA: Hello.

MCGLINCHY: Hey, is this Danielle?

Garza left the bar before midnight and hailed a cab on the street. But she says she called it an early night knowing a cab would be more available at that time. Will she try any of these new apps? Maybe, she says.

In the meantime, two more ride-hailing companies have arrived, and as riders grasp for a new service, these recent startups are also on the lookout for former Uber and Lyft customers. For NPR News, I'm Audrey McGlinchy in Austin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Audrey McGlinchy is the City Hall reporter at KUT, covering the Austin City Council and the policies they discuss. She comes to Texas from Brooklyn, where she tried her hand at publishing, public relations and nannying. Audrey holds English and journalism degrees from Wesleyan University and the City University of New York. She got her start in journalism as an intern at KUT Radio during a summer break from graduate school. While completing her master's degree in New York City, she interned at the New York Times Magazine and Guernica Magazine.