Uber, Lyft and the Wild West of Texas Ridesharing

By Trace Levos, Sarah Talaat & David BrownSeptember 10, 2014 9:33 pm

Last month, the Houston City Council voted to open the heavily regulated vehicle-for-hire market to Uber and Lyft.

These start-ups develop and utilize smartphone apps to connect drivers with interested riders, using the driver’s personal car. Dallas, Austin and San Antonio are considering similar overhauls, but taxi and limousine drivers across the state are upset that their competitors could be playing by a different rulebook.

Aaron Sankin covers Uber and Lyft for The Daily Dot. He recently sat down with The Texas Standard’s David Brown to talk about the future of ridesharing,

Interview highlights:

Why Houston has become the pioneer city:

“Houston as a city is very hungry for transportation options. It’s not a city that’s really known for having a really robust public transportation infrastructure. Also, there are maybe 10 cabs in the entire city …  So I think there is a particular hunger for these services in Houston.”

New pressure on cab companies to innovate:

“In a sense, for a long time they’ve really had a monopoly. … Services like Lyft and Uber have really taken advantage of that slowness to change on the part of cabs, and have given consumers an experience that they like.”

In Austin, Uber and Lyft aren’t exactly legal:

“If you were to hail a Lyft or Uber cab and that cab gets pulled over, you’re not going to get in trouble. But these companies are operating under cease and desist orders from the [City of Austin]. The individual drivers would have to have chauffeur’s licenses. I haven’t gone out and polled every Lyft and Uber driver, but I can’t imagine that the majority of them do.”

“Last week I took a Lyft. I hop in the back seat and the driver says, ‘Hey, can you maybe get in the front? Because they’re pulling drivers over and we don’t want it to look like I’m doing exactly what it is that I’m doing.’ … On one hand, these companies are operating very openly, but at the same time, they’re deliberately flouting the law.”

Why cabs just can’t copy the rideshare model:

“These apps, while they seem very, very smooth, they have a lot of technical know-how going on underneath the surface. I think these are teams that have a lot of really good designers, a lot of really good coders. Uber is a multi-billion dollar company. … These are companies with deep pockets and a lot of important connections.”