It’s safe to say that Austin City Council meetings would be a lot more entertaining if Austin entrepreneur and Honest Dollar founder William Hurley was on the dais.
At a South by Southwest Interactive panel on Saturday, Hurley heaped criticism on his fellow tech entrepreneurs, accusing them of not doing enough to “problem-solve” their way out of the ride-hailing wars with the City Council.
“People just want to bitch and moan” Hurley said, rather than finding a solution. “When it comes to fixing it or doing it or changing it, I don’t see a lot going on.”
He said some people opposed to the City Council’s regulations of Uber and Lyft are not willing to have “hard conversations” and come up with creative solutions rather than fighting City Hall.
At the well-attended panel on “Innovation vs. Regulation,” Hurley joined current Austin City Council Member Ann Kitchen and former Austin Mayor Will Wynn in discussing recent tensions over the council’s decision to pass stricter regulations for ride-hailing companies and short-term rental owners.
In particular, there has been a tremendous amount of interest - even internationally - in Austin’s high-profile fight with ride-hailing services Uber and Lyft, which has led to a May voter referendum on whether to approve an ordinance that the council opposes. It strips away requirements for fingerprint-based background checks and other safety measures.
Kitchen has been targeted by proponents of ride-hailing services, and particularly by Uber, for championing the ride-hailing regulations, even though a majority of the City Council voted to approve them. This panel was an opportunity for Kitchen to address some of her biggest critics.
Kitchen said her goal is not to “regulate everything.” But that some government functions are just too important to ignore - such as public safety. She said there is a certain amount of "gender deafness" on the issue of safety.
"There is a certain perspective that women bring to the table on public safety."
She also tried to fight against the reputation that the City Council is not pro-innovation, stressing several times that the
decisions to require things like a fingerprint-based background check were about safety, particularly of young women.
“We have to balance the issues against each other,” Kitchen said.
Hurley said there’s no doubt that regulations slow innovation, citing his examples starting Honest Dollar and tangling
with the various federal banking regulations. But he argued against treating regulations as the enemy, urging the tech community instead to help innovate the regulations.
He also was critical of people like Silicon Valley investor Mike Maples, who recently tweeted that he would no longer invest in certain Austin companies because of the council’s actions.
“It can’t be polarized,” Hurley said. “It is childish, and there is no other word for it, for a VC or anyone else with a position of authority or power to say ‘I’m going to take my ball home and not play.’ ”
Hurley advocated for the tech companies to address the safety issues through innovation, such as creating a way for women who hail an Uber or Lyft late at night to only be given drivers that these companies know are high ratings or will not pose safety problems.
But he also had some advice for the council: try out these services in order to really understand them. “I don’t think you should regulate something you haven’t done yourself,” Hurley said, joking that Kitchen should become an Uber driver.