ARE AUSTIN’S RIDE-HAIL­ING APPS A FLOP AT SXSW?

Dur­ing first such fes­ti­val for small lo­cal firms, a ‘per­fect storm’ of is­sues knocks two out of ac­tion.

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By El­iz­a­beth Fin­dell efind­ell@states­man.com

Uh-oh. Just two days into South by South­west, are Austin ride-hail­ing ser­vices fal­ter­ing?

Lo­cal ride-hail­ing ser­vice Ride-Austin posted on Face­book early Sun­day morn­ing that its data­base was locked up through most of the evening Satur­day.

Fas­ten also had prob­lems, CEO Kir­ill Ev­dakov con­firmed, be­gin­ning a lit­tle af­ter 8 p.m. Satur­day. He called SXSW, rainy weather and glitches with other ser­vices si­mul­ta­ne­ously a “per­fect storm” that led to Fas­ten re­ceiv­ing about 12 times as many ride re­quests as nor­mal.

It’s un­clear which ser­vice went down first, but both said the prob- lems with the other spiked their traf­fic and ex­ac­er­bated their is­sues.

Ride-hail­ing giants Uber and Lyft left town last May, and this is the first SXSW for the smaller apps that have re­placed them. Nu­mer­ous SXSW at­ten­dees posted on so­cial me­dia Satur­day and Sun­day about prob­lems find­ing rides.

“Both apps are down... in Austin... at #SXSW2017 no less. #Irony,” tweeted Washington, D.C., Coun­cil­man Kenyan McDuffie, with screen shots of his failed at­tempts.

Others tweeted screen shots of Fas­ten “boost” prices run­ning as much as $60 to $100 for 1 to 3 miles. The com­pany mar­keted it­self as not hav­ing surge prices, which Chief Op­er­at­ing Of­fi­cer Vlad Shris­tov said is a dis­tinc­tion that mostly ap­plies to driv­ers — cus­tomers must pay more dur­ing high-traf­fic times, but driv­ers pay no more to the com­pany.

Ride-Aust i n posted that it re­ceived an in­flux of new driv­ers and ride re­quests at 7 p.m. Satur­day, caus­ing its data­bases to lock up. The prob­lems per­sisted un­til about mid­night, the

com­pany wrote.

Josh Krakauer, a SXSW at­tendee from Iowa City, Iowa, found him­self stuck in the rain try­ing to find a ride back to a rental house with friends. When nei­ther app would load, his group paid $40 to a guy who called out his win­dow that he was a driver.

Michael Mi­raflor, in town from New York, also paid cash to an off-duty limo driver of­fer­ing rides to lines of peo­ple try­ing to get home from down­town around 11 p.m., he said.

“I thought it was just some­thing wrong with my phone, but I looked around, and ev­ery­one was star­ing at their phones,” Mi­raflor said. “It was funny un­til it was not funny.”

South Austin res­i­dent Dustin McCo­mas tried to get a ride from his house about 10 p.m. He tried Fas­ten and RideAustin for about 45 min­utes be­fore even­tu­ally walk­ing to South Congress Av­enue to look for a taxi, he said.

“It was ter­ri­ble to hear peo­ple from out of town jok­ing about the ride-share things not work­ing,” he said.

At least one user also re­ported is­sues with Car2Go, a car-shar­ing ser­vice that has been tweet­ing at frus­trated ride-hail­ers to try it in­stead. Aus­ti­nite Tom Haider, who uses the cars reg­u­larly, said no one could un­lock them Fri­day or Satur­day in lots near Ce­sar Chavez Street.

An em­ployee tried to shut­tle peo­ple around in a com­pany ve­hi­cle in­stead, Haider said. Rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the com­pany could not be reached Sun­day.

Both Fas­ten and RideAustin said their is­sues are now solved.

“SXSW has just started, so we pledge to fin­ish the rest of SXSW strong,” RideAustin wrote. “We’ve al­ready seen al­most 45k rides since folks started com­ing into Austin (in­clud­ing nearly 15k on Sat de­spite our is­sues) — so we’ll re­group and of­fer a great ser­vice to both Aus­tinites and folks trav­el­ing in.”

“It was quite bad for one hour, and then we did a lot of im­prove­ments,” Ev­dakov said of Fas­ten. “We should have been more pre­pared, and now we are more pre- pared.”

Eric John­son, who is in town from San Fran­cisco, said he’s had a good ex­pe­ri­ence with Fas­ten over­all, but on Satur­day night he tried un­suc­cess­fully from var­i­ous lo­ca­tions to get one of the apps to work. Even­tu­ally an en­counter with a tra­di­tional taxi led to an epiphany.

“A woman next to me hailed a cab that could have been mine, and I re­al­ized it was time to put the phone away,” he said.

Con­tact El­iz­a­beth Fin­dell at 512-445-3696. Twit­ter: @efind­ell

TAMIR KALIFA / AMER­I­CAN-STATES­MAN

SXSW In­ter­ac­tive at­ten­dees line up on Rainey Street for an event Satur­day. The large crowds and rainy weather fu­eled strong de­mand for ride-hail­ing apps, and Fas­ten and RideAustin were down for sev­eral hours that evening.

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