Ride sharing services Uber and Lyft face growing opposition from established taxi companies. Many think drivers for the companies should be subject to the same background checks as conventional taxi drivers. That includes being vetted for possible criminal violations.
Uber and Lyft respond that making their drivers get criminal background checks would put an undue burden on them and make it harder for them to recruit drivers. They say they do their own internal checks on applicants that are more than stringent enough to protect the public.
The city of Austin, Texas passed an ordinance earlier this year that required criminal background checks for Uber and Lyft drivers. A group of concerned citizens proposed a voter initiative known as Proposition 1 that would have overturned the ordinance. Between them, Uber and Lyft spent over $8,000,000 promoting Prop 1, but on May 7, voters in Austin sent the measure down to defeat by a margin of 56% to 44%.
Shortly thereafter, Uber and Lyft announced they were suspending operations in Austin, which is the 11th largest city in the US. Both say they are considering their options. Austin mayor Steve Adler has invited the companies to work with the city to find a way forward. For the moment, both have spurned the mayor’s offer.
Nature abhors a vacuum, so they say, and so does the digital economy. Within days of the announcement that Uber and Lyft would cease operations in Austin, a group calling itself Arcade City Austin/Request A Ride organized itself on Facebook. Started by Christopher David and Eric Green, the group has over 32,000 members today.
According to TechCrunch, when members need a ride they post their current location and destination on Facebook. Within minutes, potential drivers respond with an estimated time of arrival, a proposed fee for the ride, and a phone number where they can be contacted. Once an agreement has been made, group members delete the request.
The Arcade City Austin app coming soon will allow drivers to embed personal information about themselves and whether or not they carry liability insurance online. The app will then use that information to compile a reliability score. Those who choose not to provide at least some background information will simply not be included in the group.
Arcade City Austin is attempting to shift the burden for rider safety to the parties. It will help process payments but would prefer it if the parties handle financial arrangements on their own.
Some drivers have already constructed elaborate profiles with custom graphics to attract customers. But anything online can be faked. There is absolutely no guarantee that the person who shows up to give you a ride is the person you thought you were getting online. In that respect, this is no more or less dangerous than computer dating.
If people have negative experiences with the Facebook group, that could have a ripple effect that applies to the entire operation. The upshot of all this is that the sharing economy will not be denied. If one company leaves the field, another will take its place. With ride sharing projected to become a $2 trillion a year business, the opportunities for financial reward are enormous.