Did Austin Suffer an “Uber” Setback in the Smart City Challenge?

May 13, 2016

Just in case you haven't heard, ride sharing companies Uber and Lyft have "paused" their operations in Austin after losing Proposition 1 at the ballot box nearly one week ago.

As a result, Austin may suffer a major setback as a contestant in the "Smart City Challenge," a program sponsored by the United States Department of Transportation which will award a $50 million prize to the winning City in June. Austin was named a finalist for the prize in March, along with Portland, San Francisco, Pittsburg, Kansas City, and Columbus (Ohio), and Denver.

The Smart City Challenge will reward the City that "submits the most innovative proposal to create a fully integrated, first of its kind transportation network that uses data, technology and creativity to shape how people and goods move in the future."  You can read the Austin proposal here.

After being named a finalist, Austin voted on the hotly debated Proposition 1, which would have allowed Uber and Lyft to operate under less restrictions than Taxi Companies in the City.  To support the Proposition, Uber and Lyft spent more than $8 million in mailers, free rides to the polls, and even this ridiculous commercial where former Mayor Lee Leffingwell equates his military service 40 years ago to a "Yes" vote for Proposition 1.  (Yes, that really happened).

With all due respect to Leffingwell's military service, Proposition 1 failed.  Now Austin is left to compete for the Smart City Challenge without Uber or Lyft operating in the City.  Uber and Lyft are operating in the other Cities, and surely those services are part of each one's Smart City Challenge Proposal.

So, before we welcome Uber and Lyft back from their "pause," should we consider the negative impact their heavy handed tactics may have had on Austin's prospects of victory in the Smart City Challenge?

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