Ride-hail company InstaRyde will miss SXSW, is offline in Austin (Updated)

Posted February 28th, 2017

(Updated, see below) One of the Austin ride-hailing companies that swooped in to fill the void left by Uber and Lyft last year is no longer operating in Austin, at least for the time being.

InstaRyde, which is based in Canada and began servicing Austin last summer, said in tweets on Tuesday that is it performing upgrades and will be out of commission for at least a few weeks.

The company made no mention or announcements that it would be unavailable on its websiteTwitter account, Facebook page or within the app itself. The fact that not a single person has mentioned the outage on Twitter other than me does not seem to speak of a huge demand for the company’s services in Austin.

That means the company will miss out on the traffic cluster-expletive that is South by Southwest. Fasten will be serving as the official ride-hail company of the conference, but presumably other competitors will be busy starting next week.

InstaRyde did moderately well in a ride-hail test 512tech we wrote last year. 512tech is working on a new test of existing Uber/Lyft alternatives and when testing out Instaryde, we found that the app was not working in Austin.

We’ve reached out to InstaRyde and will update this story as we learn more about what’s happening.

Update, 4 p.m.: Do you like plot twists? Here is one: it appears that InstaRyde shut down its operations in Austin as early as December, but did not tell anyone except its drivers in a private online group.

This would have been just a month after another ride-hailing company, ScoopMe, shut down in Austin.

Three drivers and a source associated with the company said that InstaRyde informed drivers in December that it was going on “winter break” in Austin, pausing operations, according to a private Facebook post from CEO Karim Sumar. One of the drivers, Andrew Tingley, said he is still owed money by the company. All three drivers and the associate said the company left with money unpaid to drivers, particularly funds from chargeback statements from passengers that were levied against drivers, and one told 512tech InstaRyde has not sent out 1099 tax forms for 2016.

512tech was provided a series of screenshots of those group conversations that happened in an InstaRyde driver Facebook group as well as screenshots of posts from Sumar about the chargeback problems.

One of the three drivers, Mike Allen, posted about it on Twitter:

It’s unclear if InstaRyde is currently operating in any city; it was said to have shut down its hometown Toronto operations last summer and the drivers I spoke to said that chargeback problems were an issue there, too.

A fourth driver, Lavon Perrin, who was featured in our ride-hail test last year, said on Tuesday he stopped driving for InstaRyde before it shut down because he wasn’t getting enough passengers on its platinum service. “They never really got going if you ask me,” Perrin said.

The company has made no such public announcement and as recently as last week has been singing the praises of Austin its social media feeds.

When reached for comment via email, a company representative said it could set up an interview sometime this week to talk to a team member, but did not respond to questions about whether service has been shut down in other cities or whether it was truthful about its operations in Austin being on temporary hold for “upgrades” as it stated earlier Tuesday on Twitter.