Analyzing the Local Narrative Around Uber and Lyft’s Return to Austin


Back in May of 2016, we wrote a perspective on how effective the Lyft and Uber campaigns were in getting people to the polls in Austin to vote on Prop 1, a referendum to roll back rules passed by our city council that would have required Uber and Lyft drivers to undergo fingerprint-based background checks.

After a contentious campaign, Prop 1 failed and Uber and Lyft made a very public exit. Recriminations followed, with both sides being accused of bullying and political tricks. After they left, Austin felt it. Ridesharing had become a way of life for many locals. But the void was soon filled by local ridesharing startups, including Ride Austin, Fare, Fasten, InstaRyde, among others.

After Uber and Lyft left in a heat of passion, life went on. But, they’re back! On Monday, May 29, 2017, Texas Governor Abbot signed into law a measure creating a statewide regulatory framework for ride-hailing companies, overriding the local measures Austinites endorsed last year. Uber and Lyft were conveniently waiting in the wings to immediately spring into operation as soon as House Bill 100 was signed.


Taking a Deeper Look at Community Sentiment


At Dialog, we won’t take a position on why or how this happened, but we can’t help but wonder, what do people of the city of Austin think about all of this? They were sort of confused when the hoopla, almost a year ago now, started. Have they become more informed? Are they excited? Do they care? Are they mad, are they sad, are they merely over it? As an Austin-based company, we were curious to find out, so we put our analytical expertise and tools into action.

Leveraging Conversation Science technologies, we analyzed recent local and public conversation online from May 26 – 31, 2017. May 26th was chosen because that is when Uber posted an apology to Austin from their newsroom, ahead of HB 100’s signing. Most of the conversation we saw took place on Twitter, with some Instagram mentions and no shortage of opinions. At the highest level, here is a narrative map of conversation themes, organized by similarly-expressed language.

Curious about how to read this map in more detail? Send us a note at, and we’ll send you a brief.

Many of these themes have stand-alone titles, but let me define all of them for you from smallest percentage of conversation volume to the greatest. If you want to jump ahead to the top ten largest themes, click here.

NOTE: The sentiment summary listed next to each theme is based on the positive or negative impact that discussion/content/media coverage has on Uber or Lyft’s overall business or brand.


21. Other Ridesharing Perspectives/Voices on the Return of Uber & Lyft (1%) (Negative)

It’s interesting because, thus far, we haven’t heard a ton online from other local ridesharing services, apart from a small conversation that has developed around an AustinInno email interview with Marisa Goldenberg, the COO of Ride Austin.

In the article, Goldenberg expressed a deeply communal view, citing, “RideAustin believes laws that affect local citizens are best set by the local citizens. While we respect the authority of the State, we find it unfortunate that the 36 lobbyists deployed by the Silicon Valley giants were effective in convincing the State Legislature that there was a need to overrule the Austin voters.”

This sentiment is something we are seeing deeply penetrate the conversation landscape online around Uber and Lyft’s return among locals.


20. Uber Put Gender Discrimination into the Law (1%) (Negative)

I didn’t realize this until knee deep in the analysis, but the legislative battle over HB 100 at one point devolved into an argument about antidiscrimination language in the bill. Particularly, the issue was around “sex” and clarifying what that really meant. At one point, state representatives wanted to amend the bill to controversially define “sex” as “the physical condition of being male or female.” This amendment was removed, but in the midst of Texas bathroom bills and other LGBTQ policy battles around the world, some Austinites were not very happy.


19. In Defense of Uber and Lyft (1%) (Positive)

Some people vied heavily in support of Uber and Lyft, and specifically, defended their actions as a smart move to safeguard their business models. They also took the stance that Lyft and Uber responded to the situation in Austin admirably, standing up for themselves in the right way.


18. Cab Drivers Protest the Return of Uber and Lyft (1%) (Neutral)

A small percentage of the conversation focused on Austin cab drivers and a quickie demonstration that was held downtown to protest the return of Uber and Lyft. We even heard all the cabbies honking from our office. Locals snapped photos and video footage of tons of taxi cabs congregating along the streets and shared the news with people online.


17. Mayor Adler Is Incentivized By/Has Ties to Finger Printing Company (2%) (Neutral)

Here’s one I hadn’t heard before — two percent of people online were talking about Mayor Adler and his alleged ties to a fingerprinting company that was never mentioned by name in the online conversation.

We looked into it, and in 2016, Adler was the leader of a program called Thumbs Up! Austin. In his original vision, a nonprofit or a for-profit company could build what he called a “third-party, cross-platform badge validator.” Essentially, it would be a digital badge, that would elevate ride-hailing services that utilize fingerprint background checks.

Back then, the intent was to revise the law so that backgrounds weren’t necessary, and then local Austinites could decide for themselves which service to take. A badge like this would serve as an incentive. While the Thumbs Up! Website features a notification at the top indicating the idea was passed by city council 7-4, that ruling happened in January 2016. The site says its next steps are to form a non-profit. It does not appear that the site is actively being maintained so it seems doubtful things are going anywhere on the Thumbs Up! front. These sentiments that were being shared online seemed unsubstantiated. Oftentimes, when you see these types of misinformed rumors spread online, a little bit of education goes a long way.


16. Uber Offers Apology to Austin (2%) (Positive)

Uber shared their Austin apology newsroom release to Twitter and several people shared the tweet. The release came before the HB 100 was officially signed, so there were a few people who were skeptical and doubted the sincerity of the apology. There have been several more shares of the tweet in the following days, but for the most part it’s a relatively small part of the current conversation landscape.


15. Local Ridesharing Alternatives Are Better (2%) (Negative)

This is one of the more opinionated themes in the conversation. Two percent of commentators are basically saying, “no thanks” to Uber and Lyft’s return to the city citing they have found more reliable, safer services that treat their employees more fairly and even pay them better. These sentiments are highly bitter, with a hint of emotional breakup at work. However, they paint local ride-hailing alternatives in a super positive light, and local companies should seize the opportunity to leverage these evangelists.


14. Uber/Lyft Paid for the New State Legislation (2%) (Negative)

This is another very opinionated theme. Two percent of people believe Uber/Lyft paid off state officials, particularly Gov. Abbott, to pass legislation that would allow the companies to return to the city and operate. Needless to say, these mentions are highly negative.


13. Uber/Lyft Drivers and Riders Transacting (3%) (Positive)

A relatively boring theme at work. Now that Uber and Lyft are operating, new drivers are attempting to leverage social media to get customers to use their service. They are mostly emphasizing the importance of safe driving alternatives if drinking, and sometimes even piggybacking off Tiger Wood’s recent DUI for emphasis. People are also sharing codes and discounts for new services.


12. The Economic Impact / Fare Costs (3%) (Neutral)

Candidly, I thought the online conversation would devolve quickly into a debate about costs, especially since we are historically a college town, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. While, 3% of people are discussing the economic consequences of Uber and Lyft’s return, and the impact that return will have for local wallets, money isn’t that strong of a driver for local Austinites. When looking at the overall conversation landscape, pride appears to be much more important. Here is a peek into some of the cost discussion:


11. Uber/Lyft App Activity (3%) (Neutral)

This theme is more technical and focused on the Uber and Lyft technology platforms themselves. People are discussing when the apps are formally launching. Some people are disappointed and expressing frustration that the app launches didn’t coincide with public announcement. There are instances where people tried to use the app when they heard Uber and Lyft were back in operation, but the app wouldn’t display drivers in the city.


10. Austin Voters Overridden — Uber/Lyft Circumventing the Law (4%) (Negative)

Here’s an important one — Austinites are really upset that their voices are being ignored/stifled by the state, and they view Uber and Lyft as the primary enablers. At a time when one in five US adults cite dissatisfaction with government and political leadership as the most important problem in the country, it’s really no surprise that locals are taking this so badly. There is a significant number of people who feel Uber and Lyft are violating city-wide beliefs by returning, thumbing their nose at the will of the people.


9. Questioning and Posing Questions (4%) (Neutral)

This theme kind of designates the grey area. Four percent of people online are genuinely unsure of what to do or how to feel and are looking to their network for answers. Should they ride Uber and Lyft? Are others riding Uber and Lyft? Organizations and local business are also posing the questions, trying to get a pulse on the community’s sentiment.


8. I’ll Still Use Local Rideshare (4%) (Negative)

This theme is better known as “Bye Felicia!”. It’s distinct from the “Local Ridesharing Alternatives Are Better” (2%) bucket because these people are not explicitly weighing benefits and then making a decision about their ride options. Instead, they are taking a principled and emotional stance that they will not ride Uber and Lyft but instead will point their wallets locally.



7. Sharing Uber’s Return Announcement (5%) (Positive)

In Uber’s Newsroom for Austin, they wrote an announcement that appeared to come from a local Austin team. This post was less apologetic and more focused on the platform changes that have been in the works since Uber’s absence. It was more forward looking.

  • Part 1 of this content is this new initiative called Project Jumpstart which “supports local causes that are closest to Austin drivers’ hearts, and empowers them to spark change in the community.”
  • Part 2 are improvements in routes, where drivers can now take short cuts which obviously benefits the customer.
  • Part 3 is that they said they updated their community guidelines, though they don’t highlight any of the big changes.

As of June 1, 2017, the below tweet of this newsroom content has been shared 440 times and liked 1,253 times, and at the time of our analysis it was about 5% of the overall conversation online about Uber and Lyft’s return. Even though this content is very disconnected from other content on the narrative map above — meaning people are not actually discussing the substance of the content so much as they are just passing it along — Uber announcements are garnering awareness in the local community.


6. Driving Partners Needed / Jobs Wanted (6%) (Positive)

I don’t think this theme comes as any surprise. Now that Uber and Lyft are operating in the city again, they need to recruit drivers to run their business and be advocates for their brands. Job post sharing and people asking questions about where to apply or how to start the application process are about six percent of the overall conversation.


5. People Sharing Uber’s Tweet About Looking Forward to Returning to Austin (10%) (Positive)

This announcement is the most shared Uber communication of the bunch. As of June 1, 2017, the tweet received 3,268 likes and 1,712 retweets. In the local Austin conversation landscape, this specific piece of content is about 10% of the overall narrative. When we compare this to opinionated content, it’s a pretty big chunk.


4. General Announcement/News of Uber and Lyft’s Return (10%) (Positive)

The news of Uber and Lyft’s return was a big deal! Many people in the community were unaware of the passing and signing of House Bill 100, but lots of people heard Uber and Lyft were back. People are sharing news stories of their return and many are just making general comments letting other people in their network know about the fact that they are back in the community.


3. News About HB100 Being Signed (11%) (Neutral)

There was a lot of news that was being shared around the signing of HB100, or the “ride-hailing bill” as many news outlets labeled it. Many of these tweets occurred in real-time with the signing of the bill. It’s interesting that news of the legislature’s activity garnered more attention and engagement online than general news of Uber’s/Lyft’s return or Uber’s communications locally.

I think this speaks volumes about Austin’s willingness to participate in and prioritize local government above personal entertainment. However, this might merely speak to the fact that Austin is the capital of Texas, and consequently, we have more politically attuned community members.


2. General Happiness Toward Uber/Lyft’s Return (12%) (Positive)

Now the fun starts. The top two themes in the narrative around Uber and Lyft’s return to the city of Austin are general sentiment buckets, meaning they are general expressions of a feeling or emotion. Many people were very happy to see Uber and Lyft return.

In the positive conversation, people were looking forward to smoother ridesharing experiences, welcoming back innovative companies to the city, and were just happier that there would be a higher volume of professional ride-hailing companies to service the demand. Here’s a snapshot of some of the more entertaining ones:


1. General Negativity About Uber and Lyft Coming Back (13%) (Negative)

And finally, the No. 1 theme in the conversation online is general negativity and F-bombs about Uber and Lyft returning to Austin. This bucket doesn’t include as many specific reasons or substantiations for the negativity as the positive bucket did — I think negativity in general lacks the patience for it.

You have been warned. The below examples, while fun, contain MANY expletives. It’s always good to end on a positive note, but perhaps in this case, it’s better to end on a negative one instead, since that is the current mood of our city.


Don’t Screw with Austin, Y’all

This has been a long year for ridesharing in Austin, but the community remains energized and opinionated. In conclusion? I think Susanne Stafford @Susanneuna summarizes the conversation landscape nicely:


Conversation Science: Deeper Insights and Actionable Answers

We do these narrative analyses for our clients all the time. Conversation Science helps us better understand customer sentiment, the market’s view, and the existing perceptions that can shape and inform better marketing. Interested in learning more? Email us at and ask for a walkthrough of some of our case studies.


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