AUSTIN, TX. — Austin is a unique city. The breakfast tacos; the startup and tech scene; the BBQ; the music; the college town vibe; the state capitol…it goes on and on.
It’s also different because there is no Uber or Lyft — and that caused some frustration for many SXSW attendees, including this reporter, on Saturday evening.
After spending more than $8 million on political campaigns, Uber and Lyft left the city this past May after Austin citizens voted to require companies to fingerprint drivers as part of the background check process. The departure was somewhat unprecedented, as both services are available in seemingly every other large U.S. city.
However, two of the more popular apps — RideAustin and Fasten — went down on Saturday night, likely due to the influx of requests from the tech-centric SXSW attendees who were departing bars and parties as rain poured over the city.
— Michael Korcuska (@mkorcuska) March 12, 2017
— Josh Margolis Ⓥ (@ATXJoshMargolis) March 12, 2017
One Austin-based company, Fare, used the issue to promote its own app that was apparently working:
Uber and Lyft not in town. RideAustin and Fasten are down. Download Fare to get rides for SXSW!
— FARE (@DriveFARE) March 12, 2017
We reached out to both companies and will update this story when we hear back. Update: RideAustin CEO Andy Tryba posted an update on Facebook about the outage on Saturday night, which was caused by “a previously undiscovered database issue that did not emerge during our scale testing.” “Our personal apologies again – we let our drivers, the Austin community and the visitors down,” Tryba wrote, also noting that there were still 15,000 rides on RideAustin’s platform Saturday.
I ventured over to a hotel and tried requesting a cab after failing to hail one on the street. The nice bellman said he’d be happy to, but it was an hour wait.
Eventually, I got Fasten to work, and had a pleasant ride experience, both with my driver and using the app.
I also tested RideAustin, a non-profit that doesn’t take commission and has nearly 5,000 drivers, earlier Saturday and that was smooth, too. RideAustin recently completed its one millionth ride, eight months after launching.
The apps aren’t quite as slick or fast as Uber or Lyft, but they get the job done.
Maybe the technical difficulties on Saturday were a one-time deal, given how many more people were requesting rides at SXSW, the annual conference that draws more than 30,000 geeks, techies, and more from around the country. And yes, this is one of those “first world problems.”
But walking around in the pouring rain and trying to hail a cab certainly made me think about how much apps like Uber and Lyft have changed the transportation game, particularly for customers who’ve had a busy night out and have become used to the “push a button, get a ride” service spearheaded by Uber and Lyft.
Perhaps Austin can offer more city-run transportation options during SXSW:
For the most part, Austin seems to be doing OK with its home-brewed ride-hailing apps. Whether they can sustain more growth or be prepared for a fast uptick in overall usage from an event like SXSW remains to be seen.