AUSTIN, Texas — Uber and Lyft pulled out of Austin two years ago to protest what they considered too- stringent rules. Now they're back, but tension remains.
The ride-hailing rivals' return to the SXSW (pronounced South by Southwest) arts and technology festival last week sparked debate among attendees about how cities and mobility companies can work together.
"At the end of the day, there might be situations where private profit motive and public good do not align," said Jessica Robinson, director of city solutions for Ford Smart Mobility. "Our commitment is to sit at the table and figure it out."
Uber and Lyft stopped operating in Austin in 2016, objecting to city regulations that required fingerprinting of drivers and other safety measures. Last May, the Texas state government passed HB100, a law that superseded local regulations and made ride-hailing a state-regulated business, which paved the way for the companies' return.
But unresolved tension behind the absence led to conversations during the future technology portion of the festival on a range of prickly issues, from how companies share operational data to where and how they are allowed to run mobility services. Car and tech companies are trying to cultivate relationships with Austinites, who have taken a skeptical, even hostile, attitude to anyone advocating a car-based culture in this quirky, left-of-center town.