A lyft driver picks up a fellow "rideshare" or transportaiton network company (TNC) supporter after the City Council Public Safety Committee meeting May 7, 2014. Photo by Iris Dimmick.
A Lyft driver picks up a fellow "rideshare" or transportation network company (TNC) supporter after the City Council Public Safety Committee meeting May 7, 2014. Credit: Iris Dimmick / San Antonio Report

San Antonio has become known around the country as a city on the rise in part by encouraging the growth of young technology companies like my employer, Rackspace, and the many cybersecurity and biotech companies that are creating new jobs and products all over town. To build on that reputation, we need to welcome rideshare technologies which are revolutionizing urban transit. Here’s why:

Better transit can help build a more vibrant downtown.

Uber and Lyft are mobile applications that connect riders to drivers through a couple of clicks on a phone. They are providing more options to consumers who want to move around their city quickly, easily, and with a pleasant experience. Increased transportation options will help San Antonio continue to build a vibrant and attractive downtown. With an appealing downtown, San Antonio will attract and retain more of the young, educated professionals who are the lifeblood of any successful city. They bring skills into the market – everything from Python software development to genetic engineering – and fill crucial roles in established companies and startups alike.

Today, major cities are competing fiercely to attract and retain these educated young people who have made their preferences clear both in surveys and by voting with their feet. They want to live in a city that has good, affordable housing, live music and other entertainment, plenty of parks, recreational activities and convenient public transportation options. As noted in the recent “Young and Restless” report, San Antonio needs to continue to make large strides to attract this demographic. Buying and maintaining a car, fighting traffic and searching for expensive parking are a big turn-off for this demographic and many others.

Having used both taxis and rideshare, I can tell you that the service experience is night and day. Catching a cab in San Antonio when you really need one is not easy or reliable – whether you are setting one up through a dispatcher who seems annoyed to talk to you, or trying to hail a cab downtown. With Lyft and Uber, you are provided an estimated time of arrival, the estimated fare for your trip, the driver’s name, and it’s a cashless transaction. The convenience and attention to the service experience makes rideshare an easy choice.

Uber and Lyft do what traditional taxis don’t.

Uber and Lyft are wildly popular in every city where they are doing business, especially among the young and educated.

Citizens holds signs in protest against Lyft and Uber at the City Council Public Safety Committee meeting May 7, 2014. Photo by Iris Dimmick.
Citizens holds signs in protest against Lyft and Uber at the City Council Public Safety Committee meeting May 7, 2014. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

Why are they more popular than traditional taxis? Put simply, they are reliable and convenient and offer a top-notch service experience. Uber and Lyft are an enticing option to use when city residents are going out for a night on the town, heading to work, or running an errand. Their technology and business model allow customers to have confidence that rides will be available quickly in almost all parts of town, at all times of the day. Traditional taxi companies do not offer this speedy service.

Traditional taxi companies need to evolve or dissolve.

While living in Chicago, my husband and I were involved in a minor car accident where our cab driver rear-ended the car in front of us. My head and legs hit the plexi-glass shield but for the most part I was okay. The cab driver yelled at us to get out of the cab and then started raising a fuss that we pay him the $12 fare. My husband paid him so that he would stop causing a scene and could return his focus to make sure everyone was okay. We left the scene shortly afterwards, but thinking back on it, there was no way to find out who our cab driver was, or that the transaction ever took place. With Uber and Lyft, the ride is tracked through the app. In the event of an accident, there is proof and information is exchanged and recorded.

These services will connect all of San Antonio.

Welcoming Uber and Lyft into our city does not solely benefit the downtown movement. These companies will make it easier for San Antonians in the suburbs to conveniently go from Stone Oak to the RIM, head to grab a bite at the food trucks at The Point Park and Eats, or head downtown and back without the dreaded traffic tangles and parking searches that can take all the fun out of catching a show at the Tobin Center or drinks at the Brooklynite.

They’re safer for all of us.

By using Uber and Lyft, we will drive up the usage of rideshares over individual cars on the road, which will also make our city streets and highways safer. There will be fewer drunk driving incidents and less of the fast-growing menace of texting while driving. Already, San Antonians are using the early Uber drivers here when they know they are going out for dinner and drinks and do not want to worry about driving home impaired.

City averse to risk?

There is a larger issue, in this whole debate, about whether San Antonio should welcome Uber and Lyft. If we do so, we will continue to build our brand as a city on the rise, one that embraces start-ups and new technologies. But if our City Council caves into the special interest lobbying of the traditional taxi companies, it will bring back the old image of San Antonio as a second-tier city resistant to change.

*Featured/top image: A Lyft driver picks up a fellow rideshare supporter after a City Council Public Safety Committee meeting May 7, 2014. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

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Marina Alderete Gavito

Marina Alderete Gavito is the executive director of SA Digital Connects.