Earlier this year, Lyft and Uber made their return to Austin after the state legislature helped them triumph over city regulations with which they’d chosen not to comply. Those regulations were overturned by state law, and almost immediately, the two titans of the ridehailing industry returned to the city. And despite early questions about how ready Austin was to embrace them, their name recognition and ubiquitous presence on the phones of visitors has meant that both companies are succeeding in the city. (They also claimed the scalp of at least one of the competitors who came to town in their absence, as Arizona-based ridehailing service Fare pulled out of Austin shortly after their return—though competitors Fasten and RideAustin are still in business.)
Regardless, the companies have folded themselves into the fabric of daily life—a point that Lyft itself made in a press release it sent out promoting a list of the 25 most popular destinations for passengers hailing rides from the University of Texas campus.
That list tells us some interesting things about the priorities of UT students right now. Let’s dive into what we’ve learned:
The top destination for UT students is Austin-Bergstrom International Airport
It makes sense that people traveling to and from the airport would be more inclined to use Lyft than services like Fasten and RideAustin—if you didn’t live in Austin when those services were the only game in town, the odds are that you’ll just stick with what you know, which includes Lyft. Students who need to get to the airport have few options, too. Even if you have a car, parking is more expensive than a ride from campus, and if you don’t have a car, the convenience of getting a reliable ride to and from the airport is a big part of ridehailing companies’ success. Students who fly home to visit family—or family members who fly to Austin to visit students—are definitely at the top of the list of the target market for a service like Lyft.
The new Target opening up at the Dobie Mall is probably going to do very well
Also near the top of the list of destinations: HEB (#5), Target (#9), and Walmart (#10). That makes a lot of sense—Wheatsville Co-op, the closest grocery store to the UT campus, is a long walk from the dorms and doesn’t sell many supermarket staples. If you’re coming to UT from a suburb, odds are that you’re much more familiar with big-box stores than local co-op grocers. Further down the list, Whole Foods Market pops up at #24, so health-conscious students have a preferred option, too. All of which suggests that when Target completes its takeover of the long-struggling Dobie Mall on the UT campus, it’s probably going to be a popular spot.
Many students choose a two-minute drive over a ten-minute walk
Popular spots like the Frank Erwin Center (#2), Plucker’s (#11), Kerbey Lane (#15), Torchy’s Tacos (#18), and Cain & Abel’s (#20) are all just a few blocks from the UT campus. Of course, campus is a big place—Torchy’s and the Erwin Center might both be a close walk from UT, but they’re more than a mile and a half from each other. Talk to an Austin ridehailing driver and they’ll tell you that getting an alert on their phone that someone wants to pay you to drive them a few blocks isn’t a rare occurrence, though—and it’s not hard to imagine hungover students who would gladly pay a few dollars to get a ride to brunch rather than having to walk. (There are also disabled students for whom walking isn’t an option, of course, and when going out at night—especially in light of the murder on campus last year—getting a ride might feel safer.)
East Sixth Street is closing the gap on West Sixth as a drinking destination
A lot of the spots on the list are places to go for nighttime entertainment—concert venues like the Erwin Center or Stubb’s BBQ (#14)—and parts of town that attract people looking to drink. It’s notable, though, that the longtime party hub of West Sixth (#2) is only a spot ahead of the newer, more hipster-centric East Sixth Street (#3). That tells us that the days of East Sixth providing an alternative to “Dirty Sixth” have either passed or will soon. Other popular destinations of that nature include Rainey Street (#7) and the Triangle (#8). (Those interested in a more granular look at what spots in Austin are popular with ridehailing passengers can take a look at this tool from Fasten that looks at specific bars, searchable by times of day and locals versus visitors.)
For some reason, the JW Marriott and Hotel Van Zandt are popular with students
We don’t really get it, but the two luxury hotels both rate in the top 20—the Marriott at #12, and Kimpton’s Hotel Van Zandt at #17. Best guess is that maybe those spots are popular among parents who visit their kids in Austin. Or students these days are into $18 cocktails. If you’ve got theories, we’d love to hear them in the comments.