National news has already forgotten about the tragedy at this year’s South By South West (SXSW), when a drunk driver plowed through a street barrier, injuring 20 and killing four. But Austin is just beginning a lengthy process of analyzing what went wrong and what can be done to prevent future tragedies. On Tuesday the Austin Music Commission hosted a public Town Hall to solicit input about SXSW. And a week before that, Austin City Council adopted a resolution to ‘review’ SXSW’s transportation, alcohol policy and security.
Any conversation about changes at SXSW will involve a Change.org petition that has garnered significant media attention. The petition“To let city officials know that people want better options for getting home after a night of drinking” was created immediately after the tragedy. So far, it has 3,880 signatures.
The petition had three demands, only one of which is both useful and possible. The other two focus on demanding “better public transportation” and “less ticketing and towing of parked cars.” “Better public transportation” has been the goal of Austin City Council for years, and if they are ever able to provide it, it will be years in the future. As for “less ticketing and towing of parked cars,” well, I have never heard anyone in Austin complain about this, or cite it as a reason for driving drunk. While the author cites “her experience as a bartender,” I have trouble seeing this as the pivotal issue that she does.
But there is a vitally important plank in the petition: allow ride-sharing and ‘gypsy’ cab companies like Uber and Lyft to operate in Austin. Of all the solutions, this is the only one that could provide relief in a timely manner. It is currently illegal for any but permitted cabs to operate. In the days leading up to SXSW, the city council and Austin Police Department reminded everyone of this fact ad nauseum. To be able to offer its services in Austin, Uber had to offer them free, as a “promotion” in order to avoid fines up to $1,500. In case you were wondering, the taxi cab industry has a history of generous involvement in city council races.
However, despite the language imploring City Council to “do something,” the truth is that City Council does not need to take proactive steps. Instead, what the city needs to do is stop.
Stop offering taxi permits to a limited number of operators (only 756 taxi permits in a city of 850,000; and that number has not increased in three years, even as 110 people move to Austin PER DAY).
Stop using Austin Police Department to protect the yellow cab drivers from competition.
Stop discouraging rational adults from using Uber by saying “it’s for your safety.”
Stop making it easier for a drunk person to get behind the wheel than get a ride home.
Stop “doing something” and start “doing nothing.” Remove the restrictions, and the problem will solve itself. Please, City Council. It would do us a world of good. Back off and let the market provide for the needs of drunk people. We’ll thank you every night that we get home safely.