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RideAustin to suspend operations amid coronavirus outbreak

Austin American-Statesman - 3/27/2020

RideAustin, an Austin-based ridehailing nonprofit, said Friday that it will suspend operations starting next week due to safety concerns related to the coronavirus outbreak.

In an email sent to its drivers and users, RideAustin said the temporary suspension is expected to begin Monday.

"Given how the virus has spread, we must make the responsible decision in order to protect both our drivers and riders. Please note that we are not closing permanently. This is a temporary suspension of operations (a pause), and we will notify you about the restart date via email when we have more information," the nonprofit said in the email.

Andy Tryba, founder and CEO of RideAustin, told the American-Statesman he recognizes the potential economic impact the decision could have on RideAustin's drivers.

"We obviously had to think long and hard about whether this was the right decision to do or not. Ultimately, their safety matters. They have a lot of people coming in and out of their cars. We have given them suggestions to be safer, but it's still putting them at risk," Tryba said.

He said the nonprofit, which that launched in 2016, has donated about $450,000 to local charities to date.

"We are highly embedded with the Austin community," he said.

Tryba said RideAustin is willing to support drivers by providing recommendations to other potential employers.

"As a nonprofit, we don't have a ton of cash to be able to provide extra benefits to all of our drivers, but from day one, we wanted to ensure that our drivers are really treated as part of the overall family rather than as a group of independent contractors," Tryba said.

In addition to the ridesharing nonprofit, Tryba is CEO of multiple for-profit operations, including a private equity fund called Think3. He said said he plans to find roles for his 10 full-time RideAustin employees at his for-profit operations.

"I don't want to lose them because they have got a bunch of knowledge in the ridesharing industry, so we're going to find homes for them," Tryba said.

According to Austin Mayor Steve Adler's stay-at-home ordinance that took effect this week, ridesharing services were included in the list of "essential businesses" that are allowed to operate during the ordinance, which is in effect until April 13.

Ridehailing giants Uber and Lyft indicated they plan to continue operations in Austin.

"We will continue operating in Austin because we have been deemed essential businesses by local authorities. The health and safety of our community comes first, and we will do our best to support drivers and delivery people during these unprecedented times," Uber spokesman Travis Considine said in a written statement.

A Lyft spokesperson said in a written statement that the company plans "to remain operational across North America except in locations where we've received alternate guidance from local and federal officials."

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