Austin City Council discusses transportation networking companies plan

Jackie Wang

The Austin City Council discussed regulating transportation network companies’ operations Thursday night. Council member Chris Riley, who sponsored the resolution to define and enter into agreements with transportation network companies, said he has never seen so much passion for a city issue.

“Taxicabs are great, but they are clearly not enough,” Riley said. “I can understand the concerns because taxicabs have been providing services for decades, and there is some degree of disruption with this change.”

The council passed the resolution 6-1 on the first reading before ending the meeting. 

21-year-old Hannah Loomis, who works mainly as a sales representative, said she started driving with Lyft when her friend recommended it as a good way to earn money on the side. Loomis said she needed the flexible hours Lyft provides to help take care of her son, Ambrose.

“It’s hard,” Loomis said. “A lot of times at my job I work until 2 p.m., and his day care is open until 6, so I drive from 2 to 6.”

Uber and Lyft supporters packed the Travis County Commissioners Court on Thursday night. Before the flood of people in black Uber shirts and blue Lyft shirts poured in, the ride-sharing companies held a rally outside of the courthouse.

Political communications senior Kaitlyn Clark said she has been working with a task force made up of Austin stakeholders — Uber drivers, taxicab drivers and students — to launch a ride-sharing pilot program.

“We’ve been talking about possible ways to regulate,” Clark said. “The group was designed to come up with a pilot program and right after [the group] formed, Uber and Lyft started operating. So basically, there is a pilot program that is illegal. Riley wants to start the program now with recommendations from staff and other cities, and come up with a more permanent solution.”

The ordinance would only be temporary, but many taxi drivers who attended the council meeting still opposed the resolution. Yellow Cab driver Jonson Lemma said ride-sharing programs are not only disruptive, but also unsafe.

“You can do all the background checks and stuff, but since it’s not a commercial car, anybody can drive that car,” Lemma said. 

Riley said he is concerned with Austinites’ safety, and he wants to help Austin embrace change in the right way.

“We do want to have some rules in place and make sure those rules work,” Riley said.

Clark said one of the important aspects of ride-sharing programs like Lyft and Uber is nightlife safety. 

“It’s hard to get a cab late at night,” Clark said. “We don’t want to see people get into cars drunk. It’s important to get these options for nightlife.” 

The council also directed City Manager Marc Ott to look at city code amendments that would give street performers the public right-of-way and passed a resolution in support of the Texas legislature repealing House Bill 2.

One abortion-providing clinic in Austin has shut down already as a result of HB2, which was passed by the Texas Legislature last year and made abortion clinic requirements more stringent. Councilman Mike Martinez sponsored the resolution to repeal any provisions in HB2 that relate to regulating abortion services. 

“We believe that there is going to be legislation to try and overturn HB2, and we want our values in Austin to be represented in Texas legislation,” Martinez said. “We’ve done this on numerous occasions. We have influence as citizens and council of Austin.”