Last year at South by Southwest, one of the most talked about issues surrounding the conference was the missing presence of ride-hailing giants Uber and Lyft.
Uber and Lyft stopped service inside Austin’s city limits in May 2016 because the companies opposed a local ordinance in place then that required ride-hailing companies to fingerprint background check their drivers.
In their absence, other companies filled the market space in Austin and took advantage of the high demand at SXSW.
But that will change at this year’s conference after Uber and Lyft returned to the city last May, coming back after a new state law was adopted that wiped away the local ordinance. With their return, which has already been devastating for other companies in the market, Uber and Lyft are expected to regain their role as SXSW’s leading ride-hailing options.
The conference is usually the biggest event of Lyft’s year, said Aaron Fox, general manager for Lyft’s Austin market. Fox said Lyft sees their usage in Austin spike by 200 percent during SXSW.
“It’s an important brand moment for us here historically and every year. It’s an absolutely massive influx or riders,” Fox said. “It’s an opportunity for us to amplify our presence in Austin.”
At last year’s conference, the ride-hailing options that filled the void included Fare, Fasten, GetMe, RideAustin, Wingz and zTrip from Yellow Cab.
Uber and Lyft’s return, however, has taken away a large percent of market share from those apps. Since last June, Fare, GetMe and Fasten have all stopped service in Austin.
Fare went first, leaving town immediately after Uber and Lyft returned. The company cited “the recent loss of business,” as their reason for departing then.
In December, GetMe suspended service in Austin and said its app was being revamped for an eventual re-launch, though it is unclear when that will happen.
Fasten is the latest to go. The company stopped service on Monday after agreeing to be sold to a Russian-based transportation network named Vezet Group.
During SXSW last year, Uber and Lyft’s departure was felt because some of the remaining companies experienced issues. Both RideAustin and Fasten reported glitches on their app due to high demand during the conference.
This year, RideAustin is more prepared after experiencing high usage during the Austin City Limits music festival last fall without issue, RideAustin spokeswoman Bobbi Kommineni said.
While RideAustin has reported lower numbers of users since Uber and Lyft’s return, Kommineni said the app is still a unique option for customers.
Unlike other companies here, RideAustin is a nonprofit and collects donations to support other nonprofits in town, and it still abides by the fingerprint-background check rule. It is also the only app exclusively in Austin.
“In any market there is a percentage of the population that believe in (RideAustin’s) principles,” Kommineniu said in an emailed response. “We’ve been able to capture that market share and continue to stay committed to Austin.”
Still, Uber and Lyft’s presence looms large at SXSW.
Uber, for example, is involved in multiple panel and speaking sessions at the conference that deal with ride-hailing and automation, while Lyft is listed as the official ride-hailing option on SXSW’s website.
“As an event, we want there to be as many options as possible to get people to-and-from downtown,” Hugh Forrest, chief programming officer at for SXSW, responded in an email. “With Lyft and Uber returning to Austin, this will only increase attendees' ability to get from point-to-point."