Lyft, Uber Get Easy PR Wins at SXSW

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Lyft and Uber have been locked in PR warfare against each other this year, but the first weekend of Austin, Texas' South by Southwest was a feather in the cap of both ride-sharing platforms. And they didn't have to do a thing—they just stood by and watched as others failed to do their job successfully.

Both companies left Austin in protest last spring after a law requiring fingerprint-based background checks for drivers went into effect (and a proposition to overturn the bill failed). Uber and Lyft had argued that their own background checks were adequate, and that the law would make it harder to recruit drivers and more onerous and expensive to vet them.

The free market appeared to be working to fill the vacuum, as alternative services sprang up in the city that did comply with the law, notably Fasten and Ride Austin. Unfortunately for all involved, these apps failed as Austin's biggest annual event kicked into gear. Users and drivers alike got error messages or were stuck on loading screens, screenshots of which ricocheted around #SXSW on Twitter. Outrageous fare hikes with no warning were another complaint.

The message seemed clear: The upstarts had failed an important trial, one that Uber and Lyft would have handled if they hadn't been pushed out. Could this fiasco be leverage in future negotiations for the giants to come back to Austin? Perhaps. In the meantime, Uber and Lyft users elsewhere have reason to be thankful, and a cautionary tale that will spring to mind if their local government considers pursuing regulatory measures in the future.

Follow Ian on Twitter: @ianwright0101