Council member announces plan to legalize ride-sharing services in Austin

Jackie Wang

City Council Member Chris Riley announced his plan to move toward legalizing ride-sharing apps in Austin. According to local laws, the only way ride-sharing companies, such as Lyft and Uber, are legal in Austin is if they operate under ground-permitted transportation services.

“Uber and Lyft’s current operations present both a concern and an opportunity,” Riley said. “Austin should be leading the nation in embracing new transportation options. If we can be assured that a company like Uber or Lyft is operating safely, we ought to work cooperatively with them to make this kind of service legal and readily available.”

The Austin Police Department has been impounding ride-sharing drivers’ cars, as well as handing out citations for lacking a proper permit. The Austin Transportation Department announced in May that APD would cite and impound cars of drivers who do not have a city chauffeur’s permit.

Jahnavi Shriram, a Plan II and public health freshman, said she used Uber for the first time in San Francisco, the birthplace of the app.

“I was visiting [a friend], and she and a couple of her other friends were getting Japanese food, and we thought we would be able to walk home,” Shriram said. “For some reason, we realized the walk was so much longer and really difficult. We called an Uber cab and it was nice and really convenient.”

Shriram said she thought regulations would be fine but should not be too strict.

“The company should make sure that the people they hire are absolutely safe people,” Shriram said. “The beginning of the implementation of this — there should be a third party that does background checks, make sure its completely safe. But, beyond safety measures, I think it should definitely be legalized.”

Riley was joined at a press conference Monday by several supportive groups, including members of startup incubator Capital Factory, the Austin Technology Council, the Downtown Austin Alliance and Student Government. Riley is scheduled to speak at Tuesday’s SG meeting.