Uber, Lyft Spent $8M to Win Austin Vote—and Lost

It was the most expensive campaign in city history
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted May 9, 2016 3:57 AM CDT
An Uber sticker in a car window.   (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File)

(Newser) – Uber and Lyft have made good on their threat to terminate operations in Austin as of Monday morning after a referendum didn't go their way. The companies spent more than $8 million—more than 50 times what their opponents spent—in a failed attempt to overturn the Texas city's requirement for fingerprint-based background checks, reports Reuters. Despite blanketing the area with ads, the companies lost Saturday's vote on Proposition 1 by 56% to 44%, reports Engadget, which notes that the companies were also fighting to be able to pick up passengers in traffic lanes. Mayor Steve Adler says he wants Uber and Lyft to stay in Austin, but the companies say they are "disappointed" and they need to "take a stand." Uber says the withdrawal will leave around 10,000 people out of work.

The Uber and Lyft spend on the campaign worked out to around $223 for every vote they received, making it the most expensive campaign in city history. The previous record, Adler's 2014 election campaign, cost only a seventh of what they spent on the Proposition 1 fight. Uber and Lyft "decided they were going to make Austin an example to the nation," political consultant David Butts, who led the opposition campaign, Our City, Our Safety, Our Choice, tells the Austin American-Statesman. "And Austin made Uber an example to the nation." After the Austin vote, other cities are now expected to target Uber on the fingerprinting issue. (The company's drivers are now allowed to encourage tipping.)

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