Wealthy venture capitalists and tech CEOs at Austin's annual South by Southwest conference gazed sullenly into their phones, wet and angry, nowhere to go but Twitter to air their grievances.
It was Saturday, and they'd just discovered they couldn't hail a private car with Uber or Lyft. They were stranded — in a city with working public transportation.
The quick backstory: Uber and Lyft left Austin in May after the city's citizens voted that the ride-sharing companies would have to fingerprint their drivers as part of a more rigorous background-check process. A labor attorney argued that drivers could use fingerprinting as evidence to further argue that they are not, in fact, private contractors — they are employees. Rather than appease drivers with fairer labor practices, however, Uber and Lyft said "see you later" to Austin. Which brings us to our dear techies stranded at SXSW.
Miraculously, there was convenient transportation in Austin over the weekend. A quick Google search reveals the city's public transportation options faster than you can say "gig economy" — there's even a landing page dedicated to it on the SXSW website. There's the SXSW Festival Shuttle, which runs until 2:30 a.m.; the SXCycle bike-share program; free rides from Mazda until 6 p.m.; PediCabs and Electric Cabs; and, of course, the Capital Metro public transportation system on which the city relies. CapMetro even has an app!
Kevin Roose, Fusion Media's VP of editorial, rounded up complaints from multimillionaire angel investor Jason Calacanis, PillPack CEO T.J. Parker, Yahoo Tech founder David Pogue and venture capitalist Aziz Gilani:
There are other ride-hailing apps besides Uber and Lyft in Austin. But two of the more popular options, Fasten and RideAustin, went down Saturday night.
Uber was founded in 2009, Lyft in 2012. In less than a decade, America's elite seems to have forgotten about public transportation — even if the rest of the country hasn't.
About one in 10 Americans take public transportation on a regular basis, according to a Pew Research Center survey. "Americans who are lower-income, black or Hispanic, immigrants or under 50 are especially likely to use public transportation on a regular basis," Pew reported.
Leaders in the tech community are obsessed with the transportation of the future — making cars fly or automating them entirely, for instance — but at SXSW 2017, they were helpless trying to navigate a major metropolitan city without the luxuries they're accustomed to. The Great SXSW 2017 Uber Panic is yet another amusing example of the disconnect between Silicon Valley's entitled affluence and how the world operates for the rest of us.