Austin City Council continues ride-sharing discussion, will review sound ordinance

Jackie Wang

The Austin City Council continued to discuss an interim ordinance allowing transportation network companies to legally operate in Austin and passed a resolution to revise the city’s sound ordinance at a meeting Thursday. 

The TNC ordinance passed 6-1 on its second reading, and the Council will revisit the ordinance for the final time at its next meeting. 

Council member Chris Riley, who sponsored the resolution, proposed passing the TNC ordinance immediately, on an emergency basis. Riley said the ordinance addresses a number of issues regarding ride-sharing services.

“With respect to the issue about accessible service, and I thought that was the biggest issue we needed to address in real detail,” Riley said. “There is new language that clarifies that the goal is to have successful rides with wait time equivalent to other TNC times.”

Council member Laura Morrison, who gave the only “no” vote on the ordinance, said the Council ought to look at the plan more closely.

“I don’t think it’s an emergency and would much prefer to see the whole issue go forward,” Morrison said. “If we are going to pass this, I do want a few things clarified and make sure we have the language right.”

Morrison expressed concern about language issues in the ordinance, including the requirement that TNCs provide outreach to underserved communities.

“I do think handing it over to the TNCs to do their best is not adequate,” Morrison said. “I think there should be some requirement in the law that allows us to evaluate it and put new requirements in their agreements if they’re not doing it adequately.”

While Riley said a task force would continue to work on a more long-term solution beyond the temporary ordinance, Morrison said she thought addressing all aspects of the ordinance, temporary or not, was necessary.

Mayor Lee Leffingwell said legalizing ride-sharing transportation is the next necessary step in Austin transportation.

“I realize that something needs to be done about our transportation system,” Leffingwell said. “I want to make sure we provide a level playing field for all kinds of transportation agencies, including cab companies. It’s silly to put a restriction on the number of cabs in service. The best approach is to deregulate — not totally, but still have requirements for insurance and vetting drivers.”

Council member Kathie Tovo expressed concern with surge pricing and proposed capping the level where pricing could rise. After a
representative from the Lyft ride-sharing service explained surge pricing is explicitly posted on the app during prime time, Council member Bill Spelman said he did not agree with the practice.

Chris Johnson, a senior policy associate with ride-sharing app Uber, said Uber is working to ensure that everyone has access to their agency.

“We do have a staff here, and we’re learning the nuances of the city,” Johnson said. “We are looking to continue to build relationships with the community.”

The council also passed a resolution to look at the city’s existing sound ordinance. After Austin police and fire department officers informed students the current city sound ordinance would be enforced more strictly, students became concerned that the rules would hinder West Campus events and parties. Leah Bojo, policy aide for Riley, said the procedures to obtain a permit would be almost impossible for students.

“The cops have said you’re not going to be able to get these permits,” Bojo said. “It’s reasonable to think that students want to have parties, and they need to be safe and respect the quality of life of other residents.”

Under the resolution, City Manager Marc Ott will present city code amendments defining a “private party” to the Council on Nov. 20.