Uber and Lyft might leave San Antonio on March 1 because, they claim, the City of San Antonio regulations will make it too financially burdensome to operate.
For Centro San Antonio staff, this rideshare issue is not about Uber and Lyft versus cabs. This is about asking what kind of city we want to be and if we are okay with being okay. A lot of time and energy have gone into asking whether or not Uber and Lyft should be able to operate in San Antonio. This isn’t about the back and forth of safety statistics and the threshold for public safety. We do not believe Lyft and Uber represent a greater threat to passenger safety than getting into any cab or that one service is inherently better than the other. This is about a level of innovation that San Antonio needs to continue pursuing.
This is about looking forward and planning for San Antonio’s future.
The City of San Antonio recently approved the expenditure of $41 million in large part to bring the NCAA Final Four and thousands of basketball fans to our city in 2018. That same year, San Antonio will also celebrate its 300th anniversary. These two events will give San Antonio a chance to showcase itself to the nation. About 21 million people watched last year’s basketball game and the anniversary will bring thousands of visitors to downtown.
What kind of San Antonio do we want them to see and experience? Let’s make sure these visitors talk about our restaurants and bars; the Museum Reach; how bike friendly our city is; the Pearl; and our support for startups. Let’s make sure they don’t describe San Antonio as a city that is okay with being okay.
People who come to San Antonio for the basketball games will do more than just hang around the Alamodome, they will be using their phones to tweet and post on Facebook about San Antonio in real time. When they open their phones and attempt to access the ridesharing apps they have become accustomed to in their own cities, will they find themselves limited in San Antonio? How will that conversation play on Facebook and Twitter and in the media? Will San Antonio be chastised as a small town that is afraid of change or will it be celebrated as progressive and forward thinking?
The City recently began crafting the Comprehensive Plan for the year 2040. This is our city’s roadmap to the future. Tied to that plan are Sustainability and Transportation Plans. Are the people writing these plans going to be instructed to leave out rideshare as a transit option in another 25 years or are they going to be instructed to pretend we can have it in the future but we can’t have it now?
Planning for the future involves making hard choices now.
We can build a city where young people want to live; where young people want to raise their own families; where young people can get ahead and grow their careers; where young people can start businesses; a city where a young person can be somebody. San Antonio can be a city where risk and innovation are rewarded. Or we can be a city that is okay with being okay.
San Antonio has embraced innovation before and we can do it again. We understand that innovation is risky. Planning for the year 2040 is risky. Building the River Walk was risky. Starting an insurance company that serves generations of military families was risky. Inviting 80,000 strangers to our city to watch a basketball game is risky. Life is risky. Innovation is risky. Being afraid of change, of innovation, of risk is dangerous.
In 2018, we will shine a light on San Antonio; it’s up to us now to set the events of our 300th anniversary on the right course. In the meantime though, we have a lot of young people, entrepreneurs and recent college graduates living in our city. We can show them a “city on the rise” that embraces technology, urbanism, creativity, education, innovation, and opportunity. Or we can prepare for them to leave.
We believe we should show them:
- a city that is building a world-class urban park
- a city with an awesome arts scene and cultural districts like the Zona Cultural and the Southtown Arts District
- a city that is one of the oldest, most historic cities in the country and also a progressive, 21st century city of innovation
- a city where Geekdom startups recently surpassed $25 million in investment
- a city that will construct 85 miles of greenway trails in ten years
- a city that took public art to a whole new level with the SAGA
- a city that is revitalizing its urban core with the redevelopment of San Pedro Creek and the Museum and Mission reaches
- a city that isn’t afraid of innovation
Let’s show them a city that welcomes Uber and Lyft and other innovative and creative companies. Let’s show them a city that looks for the good in opportunity and innovation. Let’s show them a city where people stand up for opportunity.
Let’s support a rewriting of the Transportation Network Company (TNC)ordinance to resolve the issue of this transportation dichotomy. Right now, TNCs want to operate in San Antonio but don’t want to operate under the same rules as cab companies. Cab companies want the government to protect their monopoly on transit services. We could clear a path for TNCs to legally operate in San Antonio by revising the standards we set for cab companies to those requested by TNCs. This would create a playing field for transit and technology companies to operate on equal footing and allow the market to determine how much of each service is necessary and sustainable.
This issue needs to be resolved for the betterment of San Antonio’s future. And that future includes rideshare, bikes, light rail, bus rapid transit, and streetcar. It also includes us. We want to show you a city that isn’t okay with being okay.
*Featured/top image: A Lyft driver picks up a fellow rideshare supporter after the City Council Public Safety Committee meeting May 7, 2014. Photo by Iris Dimmick.