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.
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
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
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.