Dear Chief McManus:

SAPD Chief McManus in his office at the San Antonio Public Safety Headquarters. Photo by Iris Dimmick.
SAPD Chief William McManus in his office at the San Antonio Public Safety Headquarters. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

You know I admire you and your eight-year run as San Antonio Police Chief. You’ve been a great leader and a great role model. No scandal, no bad moves. It’s so refreshing to see a uniformed officer who is fit for duty. And when there is trouble, God forbid, whether it’s an officer down or tragedy striking one of our city’s families, you show up, on the scene alongside the rank and file officers.

I don’t understand your out-of-character move to try and shut down Lyft, one of the coolest, most innovative transportation solutions to ever hit San Antonio. It’s only been operating here one week and it isn’t even charging its customers yet. I could hardly believe my ears when I heard you threatening to arrest Lyft drivers if they persist in their unlicensed, unsanctioned ride share activities. Didn’t you see the congratulatory launch message from our friends at Geekdom? These guys are for real. We are not their first city.

Lyft is a transportation solution, and it’s also a job creator. Click here to see how qualified drivers are helping make ends meet by signing up. These drivers undergo criminal background checks, must have good driving records and current insurance. Lyft supplements that insurance. Have we done more to vet our local taxi drivers?

Lyft_logo

Lyft passengers can rate their drivers, and drivers can rate their passengers. Every ride, every financial transaction is stored in a database. Riders and drivers hook up via an app, so it’s all there if anyone needs to see it. No way can law enforcement trace that kind of data in the event of an incident with a city-licensed taxi.

The co-founders, Logan Green and John Zimmer are one of those amazing overnight, tech startup stories, but truth is they’ve been at this for a long time. Lyft is only a few years old but its success has enabled it to spread quickly from its base in San Francisco. Without going into too much detail, their concept is simple: Millennials, who live on their smart phones, prefer sensible, low-cost transit to buying an expensive car they can’t afford and that burns more carbon than they care to contribute to the atmosphere. If only us Baby Boomers held ourselves to such high ideals.

Take the Millennial mindset and marry it with GPS technology, social media sites and a well-designed app, and you have a business that solves customers’ problems and meets their needs.

That’s why members of LOOP, the center city young professional organization, which attracts bright, young future leaders, issued a statement protesting the challenge to Lyft. Here’s the group’s statement:

“The Board of LOOP would like to acknowledge the importance of transportation options in San Antonio in light of the San Antonio Police Department’s recent decision to suspend operations of the ride-sharing service, Lyft. The company’s launch on Friday marked a new triumph for the city in its fight against drunk and impaired driving, a costly act that saw 25,158 alcohol-related crashes that resulted in 8,702 serious injuries and 1,022 deaths in Texas last year.

“With an influx of people due to flood downtown next month for the annual Fiesta celebration, LOOP urges the City of San Antonio, San Antonio Police Department and Texas Department of Transportation to reexamine the existing city ordinance that may prohibit safe, reliable, donation-based transportation companies from operating. Residents of San Antonio deserve more alternative modes of transportation, and the LOOP Board supports innovative technological solutions that have been proven to be safe, efficient, and cost-effective in other markets.”

Chief, everyone I have spoken to this afternoon and evening wonders what motivated you to take such forceful action given your cool demeanor. Are the taxicab owners pressuring the City? In a city with too few transit choices, cabs too often are part of the problem. I don’t particularly blame the owners or drivers. In a city of sprawl, where cabbies come only when called or if you happen to be at a downtown hotel or the airport, supply and demand seldom balance the way they do in more densely populated urban areas.

We need creative solutions like Lyft to attack some of the very big transportation problems in this city which get little attention because only crisis motivates people to act: air quality that worsens by the year, and highways clogged with commuter traffic moving at a rush hour crawl in the only Texas city that has no form of light rail.

How are we going to make San Antonio a more walkable city, safer for cyclists and pedestrians, unless we start taking some of the vehicles off the road, most of which carry exactly one person: the driver?

How are we going to get people to stop climbing behind the wheel after they’ve had too much to drink in a city that celebrates drinking? Chief, you had the backbone to challenge the Conservation Society when you first came to town and realized NIOSA was a drunken mess tied into a Fiesta fundraiser. Your campaign to enforce drunk driving laws has saved lives. Bravo!

Lyft screenshot courtesy of Iris Dimmick.
Lyft screenshot.

People under the influence who call Lyft present no danger to others.  Lyft causes no harm, at least not that I’ve read about anywhere it operates. It’s even bigger competitor, Uber, supposedly has plans to also come to San Antonio. It won’t cause any harm, either. Check out Uber’s founder, Travis Kalanick, whose company is now valued at more than $3 billion and is funded by the likes of Google.

These entrepreneurs and their companies are major league disrupters who scare the crap out of complacent businesses threatened by change. All the more reason to welcome them.

The entrepreneurs who built these fast-growing companies have been successful because they meet a real need. They knew from the get-go that they couldn’t sustain success unless their business model included passenger security. Car share doesn’t work if sexual predators can play. That’s why drivers are carefully vetted, and frankly, that’s why we aren’t reading nightmare stories about car share programs gone bad. If we ban Lyft we are solving a problem that doesn’t exist.

Texas has already allowed one entrenched lobby – the automobile dealers – to prevent Tesla vehicles from being sold directly to consumers. That short-sightedness could cost us the Tesla battery factory the company hopes to build here or in some other Sun Belt city and the 6,500 good paying jobs it would create.

Let’s take a step back and ask ourselves: What’s the simplest, quickest way to make sure these companies have figured out the public safety and security thing. Let’s allow Lyft to operate through a probationary period, and if all goes well, let them stay.

*Featured/top image: From left: Lorenzo Gomez, Julie Campbell, Lyft Launch Team Manager Will Farino, Kara Gomez and Ryan Salts welcome Lyft to Geekdom. Photo courtesy of Geekdom.

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Robert Rivard

Robert Rivard

Robert Rivard is editor of the San Antonio Report.