After a series of public input sessions and continuing data collection, the passionate city-wide rideshare debate continues to smolder. For rideshare advocates like U.S. Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas) and Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1), a city with rideshare is a city that embraces innovation.
“Mayor Taylor says San Antonio is a city on the rise. It’s a city on the rise because we have leaders of the city like Councilman Treviño, we have companies that are being innovative like Uber, and we have citizens who care about our country,” Hurd told a small group of 40 at a rideshare talk Wednesday at the Geekdom Event Centre, hosted by Uber San Antonio and TechBloc. “It’s really interesting when you talk to the partners who are (Uber drivers) and (see) the impact that it has on their families and on our city.”
TechBloc, Treviño, Hurd, and others in the city have been vocal about their fervent support for rideshare companies, or transportation network companies (TNCs), in San Antonio.
Over the past few months, San Antonians have been able to utilize several rideshare companies under a special pilot agreement that expires on Oct. 31 of this year. The City has been analyzing public feedback and gathering numerical data regarding rideshare’s impact on San Antonio in order to determine its future as the city continues to grow.
The goal is to collaboratively create “a more long-term solution” for rideshare in San Antonio, said Treviño, who helped craft the agreement.
It can be difficult for residents and elected officials alike to “grasp or understand innovative technology, but what’s really important here is that we created a framework to help address that,” Treviño said, adding that cities like Austin passed up such opportunities.
That collaboration and other projects around the city like the San Pedro Creek Improvements Project, the recent implementation of new pre-cast concrete sidewalks, and the design and imminent implementation of new river barges on the River Walk are “truly showing that this city is self-actualizing.
“It’s truly evolving, it’s progressive, and it’s brave enough to try new things.”
Treviño, Hurd, and other proponents of rideshare companies like Uber also believe that TNCs have had a positive impact on public safety across the country. David Brightman, general manager of Uber Central Texas, said Wednesday that rideshare has decreased the DUI rate in several U.S. cities like Atlanta, where the rate has fallen 30% since rideshare entered the market. Those numbers for San Antonio have not yet been released, Brightman said.
City Council requested that data in June, when it decided to extend the TNCs’ agreements to October, in order to make more informed decisions about rideshare’s future before Council votes on the matter in the fall.
“We don’t have those results just yet, but we do know that there’s more people using (rideshare) options rather than (drinking) and getting behind the wheel,” Treviño said. “We certainly want people to be safe, to have options in our city to travel.”
Despite lacking hard data, Treviño and Brightman argued that along with public safety, rideshare has improved the quality of life for its users and drivers alike. Feedback gathered during three public meetings that were held over the past few months as well as results from an online rideshare survey showed that 85% of respondents had a “very positive attitude toward their experience” with rideshare, Treviño said.
Rideshare opponents have also spoken up in past public input sessions, arguing that TNCs disregard the population that doesn’t own a smartphone and that they don’t constitute as safe a travel option since, under the current agreement, rideshare drivers are not mandated to complete fingerprint background checks.
Still, Treviño said rideshare is “something that’s been received well” overall.
Moreover, Treviño sees rideshare as a door-opener for both residents and visitors looking to explore and “activate” San Antonio’s vibrant downtown. Many will use rideshare to get to and from the area since the service is affordable and easy to use, he added. Another advantage is that visitors don’t have to worry about parking.
“When I’m out here at night, (I notice) there (are) more and more people downtown,” he said. “I think that says a lot about the impact on our city and how we’re addressing innovative solutions like (rideshare).”
Brightman pointed to the UberMILITARY initiative – a program that introduces service members, veterans, and military spouses to Uber as drivers or partners – as an example of how rideshare has provided opportunities for a large population who often has difficulty finding civilian jobs after serving in the armed forces.
Carlos Guerra, a United States Marine Corp veteran, became an Uber partner in December 2015 and is one of 50,000 U.S. veterans who drive for the company. He chooses to do so despite having a job opportunity at his son’s business, he said.
“I consider myself an ambassador for San Antonio,” he told the group. “I pick up people at hotels or at the airport and I talk about San Antonio.”
Rideshare across the U.S. is continuing to evolve and legislation related to it needs to continue to adapt as well, said Hurd, who is a frequent Uber user and recently drove as an official Uber partner for an afternoon. Before Wednesday, it was difficult for federal employees to get reimbursed for their transportation costs when they use rideshare programs while on government business because regulations had not yet been updated to include information about rideshare usage.
Hurd, along with U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.) presented the Government Travel Modernization Act to the U.S. House of Representatives earlier this month, which would allow reimbursements for government travel via rideshare companies. But before taking action on the legislation, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform decided to clarify the regulation’s language to allow the reimbursements.
“This is about making sure the government is adapting to the latest technology,” Hurd said. “Don’t be afraid of it. Adopt it, evolve, change.”
Top image: (From left): U.S. Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas) and Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) listen to a presentation about Uber’s impact on San Antonio. Photo by Camille Garcia.