Austin Lyft and Uber drivers hustling for new rides, organizing alternative ride options

Rides via Facebook groups, texting and skirting city limits now the new normal

Posted May 13th, 2016

Story highlights
  • Some drivers are offering off-the-app rides to friends or people who find them on Facebook.
  • Several Facebook groups hoping to organize drivers have sprung up this week.
  • Without Uber and Lyft as the basis, peer-to-peer rides may involve more work for drivers.

In the wake of ride-hailing companies Uber and Lyft leaving Austin, local drivers for the services are finding alternate ways to give rides  as they look to make ends meet, or organizing groups to figure out what's next.

Some drivers have taken to posting their phone numbers on social media to offer rides directly to customers while others are discussing their options on several Facebook groups that have sprung up including "AUSTIN UNDERGROUND RIDESHARE COMMUNITY" (in all caps, no less), "Austin TNC Drivers United" and "Arcade City Austin / Request A Ride." 

New Hampshire-based Arcade City is a decentralized network for drivers that was already in the process of launching in Austin before Uber and Left decided to cease operations in Austin on Monday. Arcade City said on its webpage that it pulled its proof-of-concept app from app stores and will relaunch by the end of May. 

"Arcade City is not a 'TNC'. It's merely a brand, a culture, a way of being with each other," text on the site says. "Yes, there will be a certain legal entity offering rideshare insurance to drivers starting this summer. But we will always stand firm on principle that two people should always be able to connect directly with each other, free from outside interference."

It has previously offered options in cities such as Midland and Corpus Christi when ride-hailing companies left those areas over disputes similar to the one in Austin.

Austin TNC Drivers United says it will hold a meeting for those interested at 7 p.m. Wednesday for drivers and is asking Facebook page members to sign a membership agreement.

All of it comes in a week when those looking for rides and former Uber or Lyft drivers have been seeking alternatives to the apps, looking to companies such as GetMe, which is ramping up, and Wingz, which is limited to airport rides, for transportation options.

Some drivers are hustling for work by signing up for the new ride-hailing services while continuing to provide rides outside the city limits and offering unofficial taxi service to those who contact them directly, which may be illegal, says Cheyenne Krause, public information specialist at the Austin Transportation Department.

"If a company or individual is providing a ride for compensation and that compensation exceeds the federal reimbursement rate for privately-owned vehicles, those services are subject to regulation by City Code Chapter 13-2. Companies and individuals providing transportation service and charging more than the federal reimbursement rate without appropriate documentation are illegal in the City of Austin," Krause wrote in an email. "We highly encourage users to look for services that fully vet their drivers and have mechanisms in place to ensure the safety of both the riders and the drivers. The City of Austin has and will continue to enforce this provision of the Code."

The reimbursement rate is 54 cents a mile for a privately owned vehicle, according to the U.S. General Services Administration website.

One driver who spoke to 512tech on condition his name not be used for fear of reprisals from Uber, said, "I'm just trying to piece it together. I'm giving rides to people that I actually know on Facebook and friends of friends, or doing pre-arranged airport runs."

The driver said he's still picking up riders in zones Uber still serves such as Round Rock or Westlake, and dropping them off in Austin, then offering off-the-app return rides if needed.

It's in an effort to make up for the $1,000-a-week the driver was making by working for both Uber and Lyft for a total of about 50 to 60 hours a week. He's applied to GetMe and plans to work with any other TNC alternatives that can give him work.

"I miss the infrastructure terribly," he said. "I was really happy with the way things were going. This is the ideal job for me" as a parent and part-time student, he said. 

Stephen Spillman / for AMERICAN-STATESMANLyft driver Jason Elizalde waits to pick up a rider on 4th Street Friday, May 6, 2016

It's been a lot more work, the driver said, since giving rides now involves a lot more back-and-forth messaging, which is a problem with Arcade City. "Arcade City is not a good solution," the driver said. "You have to sit there on the phone and constantly refresh. It's really cumbersome. It's a lot more work than I'd like to put in."

Christopher David, CEO of Arcade City, said in a phone interview that the relaunch of its apps in about two weeks will alleviate a lot of that extra work and that for now, its Facebook page, with more than 6,500 members, has been the hub for getting peer-to-peer rides.

"People are using it to request rides and sharing information about other stuff that's helpful," David said. "We're really excited about Austin. We're seeing Austin as a large opportunity even separate from Uber and Lyft."

The CEO said his company is planning to set up a coworking space downtown at Capital Factory as it looks to close out a round of funding. "We're not exactly sure what it's going to look like, but we're committed to building something big there."

Arcade City asks for a 10 percent cut of rides, but doesn't require drivers to complete orders via its app and plans to use incentives and gamification to encourage drivers to pay its fees, David said.

David said he's not sure how or whether Arcade City will follow the fingerprinting rules in Austin that prompted Uber and Lyft to jump ship. He says his company may set up several different entities, including some that would be set up for drivers who want to participate in fingerprinting. "I envision there will be multiple LLCs popping up that will register separately with the city of Austin," David said. "We're not trying to be any one particular thing."

He also said the company hopes to offer Uber-style insurance options for drivers by July.

From the Austin Underground Rideshare Community Facebook page.

Mic Hael, the administrator of the Austin Underground Rideshare Community Facebook page posted on Thursday, "We can start our own 'DONATION BASED' rideshare community. We dont need any of them. You can post your availability and info on this page and continue doing what you've been doing we connect as people and make our own deals between ourselves. Riders can post here their needs for a ride as well. We dont need anyone. We can take care of ourselves."

Some of the Facebook pages have been used to connect actual rides, but other discussion threads have turned into discussions about insurance, complaints about the city and/or Lyft and Uber, or arguments that have had to be deleted by administrators.

Updated at 4:45 p.m. to include interview with Arcade City CEO Christopher David.

Updated at 5:31 p.m. to include information from City of Austin on the legality of indie ride hailing.