Austin advocates of sustainable development policies advancing an anti-car agenda have systematically put up barriers to auto travel and elevated politically correct modes of travel like mass transit, walking and biking. They’ve removed 1,000 parking spaces from downtown Austin to make way for wider sidewalks, and they’ve converted lanes open to all cars into restricted bike and bus lanes. Now Austin is known for its aggressive cyclists, wasteful and scandal-ridden Metro system and congestion rather than an economic powerhouse and freedom-loving Texas city.
By Terri Hall | May 18, 2016
Austin Mayor Steve Adler
It’s a surprising ballot proposition in a state that boasts it’s the bastion of freedom. Austin voters headed to the polls earlier this month to decide whether or not ridesharing companies like Uber will stay or go. A ‘Yes’ vote on Prop 1 – a ballot measure targeted to overturn city regulations passed in December – would welcome Uber to stay, while a ‘No’ vote would give them the boot. Austin voters soundly gave Uber the boot defeating Prop 1 by a 12 point margin — 56% opposed it while 44% were in favor.
The liberals that dominate the Austin city council have been downright hostile to ridesharing companies. So hostile it’s required a ballot initiative to decide whether this growing Texas city actually supports free market capitalism or government intrusion in the free market world of transportation.
Media coverage of the election fails to mention the real reason behind the push to kick out ride sharing companies — taxi cab unions and public transit employees. Both see the revolution in ride sharing as threats to their monopolies.
The pro-big government crowd jeered that Austinites made clear they want government regulation, and they don’t want corporations to make their own rules (ie – defy the rules imposed by Austin City Council that are driven by special interests). The anti-Prop 1 voters believe a private company should not operate without government interference. Three Texas cities have also driven Uber out — Galveston, Corpus Christi and Midland — and, nationally, Chicago and Los Angeles are both considering over the top regulations that will yield the same result — an end to ride sharing in their cities.
Let’s face it, Texas’ governing bodies have been increasingly hostile to transportation freedom for over a decade. Former Governor Rick Perry implemented the wholesale restriction of Texans’ freedom to travel through a massive network of toll lanes, some under the control of government-sanctioned private monopolies.
In a sweeping move that allowed government bureaucrats to pick the winners and losers of who gets a fast ride and who doesn’t, Perry’s transportation legacy marked the dawn of transportation tyranny in Texas. As soon as government gets its foot in the door to restrict travel, transportation liberty takes a back seat to power brokers.
Now elected officials can mess with your travel liberty and nowhere more starkly than the city of Austin. Austin embraced and implemented sustainable development policies faster than any other Texas city. Advocates of putting Austinites on a road diet to advance an anti-car agenda, officials have systematically put up barriers to auto travel and elevated politically correct modes of travel like mass transit, walking and biking. They’ve removed 1,000 parking spaces from downtown Austin to make way for wider sidewalks, and they’ve converted lanes open to all cars into restricted bike and bus lanes. Now Austin is known for its aggressive cyclists, wasteful and scandal-ridden Metro system, and congestion rather than an economic powerhouse and freedom-loving Texas city.
Prop 1 symbolizes the battle between liberty and government control — whether or not two parties can agree to share a ride and whether or not companies can operate free of government interference. Austin Mayor Steve Adler wants the government intrusion to invade Texas’ critical corridor for the movement of people and goods — Interstate 35.
He’s decided the only solution to accommodate the people moving to Austin and choosing to drive their cars into downtown warrants the imposition of a managed HOV-bus-toll lane on I-35. His stated goal is to allow congestion to fester on the unrestricted lanes of I-35 in order to manipulate drivers out of their cars and into a bus or carpool in order to gain mobility. If they choose to stay in their cars, he plans to impose dynamic tolls to punish single occupancy cars by making them pay a premium toll to get access to downtown in peak hours – the seat of Texas government and home to the Capitol complex, the very embodiment of the people’s building.
So the Austin council’s hostility to cars and freedom of mobility didn’t just arrive when Uber came to town, it’s been an open wound for quite awhile. But at least Austin voters got the chance to weigh-in before more of their travel freedom got eroded by overzealous, big government progressives. Bottom line, the Prop 1 fight was about taxi unions demanding regulation in order to drive out their competition. However, liberty-minded voters have vowed to continue the fight to allow ride sharing companies to operate in Austin, free of overburdensome regulations like mandatory expensive finger-print based background checks, although Uber already uses a reliable driver screening service called Checkr Inc.
In the meantime, I’m pretty sure we can hear Stephen F. Austin groaning from his grave.
Terri Hall is the founder of Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom (TURF), which defends against eminent domain abuse and promotes non-toll transportation solutions. She’s a home school mother of ten turned citizen activist. Ms. Hall is also a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis.