Austin’s downtown area is generally pedestrian-friendly, but when you’re tired of walking, you can almost always find a pedicab. Basically a rickshaw pulled by a bicycle, the pedicab is very basic but reliable transportation. In true Austin style, some pedicabs are creatively decorated—the Game of Thrones pedicab is particularly popular. Technically, the drivers work for tips, but the “tip” is generally negotiated before the ride begins. Expect to pay around $10 for a few blocks.
The pedicab drivers are independent contractors who rent the pedicabs provided by a few different local companies. Some have started adding canopies to protect riders from the rain.
Ride-Hailing Service Drama
In spring 2016, Uber and Lyft abandoned Austin altogether over a dispute with the Austin City Council regarding fingerprint background checks for drivers. However, the state legislature overruled the city’s law, and now Uber and Lyft are back in town. Ride Austin is a local nonprofit ride-hailing service that was started while Uber and Lyft were away. Ride Austin struggled for several months after the major competitors returned, but the service is still alive and well as of June 2018. Drivers who have worked for both Ride Austin and Uber say that very few out-of-towners are even aware of Ride Austin.
In a sense, Ride has become the service for locals, while Uber and Lyft take care of the tourists. Locals often prefer Ride because the company offers a rounding-up option; your fare is rounded up to the next dollar and the change is donated to a local nonprofit organization such as Austin Pets Alive. The app also allows you to tip the driver, and you can easily get a real-time fare estimate before booking a ride. In addition, Ride tends to be a little cheaper than Uber and Lyft. Safety continues to be a concern with all three major ride-hailing services.
In an attempt to allay those concerns, Uber has recently added a feature that lets you contact 911 from within the app, which allows the dispatcher to know your exact location.
A new entrant into the downtown Austin travel marketplace, Ryde operates open-air electric vehicles that can carry up to five passengers. You can call and request to be picked up or simply hail a Ryde vehicle just like a cab. The cost is only $5 to go anywhere within the service area, which covers all of downtown and then some. To the north, the service goes to 28th Street; the southern boundary of the Ryde service area is Oltorf; Mopac is the western border; and the service extends to Airport Boulevard on the east side.
Unlike the ride-sharing services, the price doesn’t go up during busy times. The company keeps its costs low by plastering the entire vehicle with ads.
The three major cab companies in Austin are Yellow Cab, Austin Cab and Lone Star Cab. Yellow Cab operates the largest number of taxis and is generally the most reliable. The main advantage of choosing a cab is that the companies conduct more thorough background checks of their drivers than the ride-hailing services. All of the cab companies are struggling in the wake of brutal competition from ride-hailing companies. The Austin City Council is in the process of trying to level the playing field, which may mean allowing cab companies to adjust their prices periodically.
However, even after the deregulation plan goes into effect, cab companies will not be able to change their rates on the fly in the way that Uber and Lyft do. Any change in rates has to be communicated to the city, and the new rates must be posted prominently on the company’s websites and inside the cars. In other words, the ride-hailing services will continue to have a significant competitive advantage.
What Happened to the Free ’Dillo Shuttle?
The free downtown shuttle service was shut down in 2009 due to low ridership and budget concerns. In the summer of 2015, RideScout operated a pilot project that was similar to the old ’Dillo service. The company offered free rides around downtown using constantly circulating open-air cabs and shuttle buses. Though the pilot project is over, the company plans to approach the City of Austin to share the lessons learned during the project and discuss potentially bringing the service to downtown Austin on a long-term or even permanent basis.