City Council approves amending rideshare regulations

Lauren Florence

City Council passed approval to amend city code regulations Thursday for rideshare services such as Uber and Lyft, including fingerprint background checks and annual operating fees Thursday evening.

The council amended the regulations after suggestions by the Austin Mobility Committee at an Oct. 7 meeting. The proposed regulations would apply to all transportation network companies, or TNCs, which includes vehicle-for-hire apps like Uber and Lyft. 

In a public testimony in support of fingerprint background checking, Emily LeBlanc, director of community advocacy for SafePlace, said reports in recent months have shown four transportation network company drivers were linked to incidences of sexual harassment or assault.

Ken Casaday, president of the Austin Police Association, said there is no way to catch predators without having a fingerprint on file. Casaday said taxis and rideshare companies prevent deaths associated with drunk driving. 

Council member Don Zimmerman, who voted against the resolution, said citizens do not want regulations for transportation network companies. He said the fingerprints are just another obstacle and create friction for people interested in rideshare driving.

Council member Ellen Troxclair said Uber and Lyft currently operate in cities without fingerprinting regulations and the rule could make rideshare companies leave Austin. 

“[Drunk driving] is such a serious problem in our city and knowing how difficult it is often to find safe rides late at night or when someone has been drinking … if there is a way to make this work so that the TNCs will stay in Austin, then that is great,” Troxclair said.

Council member Ann Kitchen said she believes the council will be able to find a process for increased background checks that do not create barriers for drivers. Kitchen said the city is learning that there needs to be a nationwide process for regulating transportation network companies and Austin should demonstrate leadership by passing rideshare regulations.

Austin mayor Steve Adler said the regulations are using taxi regulations as a model system, and the intent of the regulations is not that rideshare companies have to align with taxi companies. 

The regulation would require rideshare companies to pay an annual operating fee, which would either charge per driver or require a one to two percent cut of the company’s annual local gross revenue. However, Kitchen said neither Uber nor Lyft have responded to either option.

On Tuesday, Uber became available again in San Antonio after leaving in April because of fingerprint regulations. The company returned after San Antonio’s City Council declared fingerprint background checks voluntary. 

“At this point we’ve asked both [Uber and Lyft] what formula would work for them and … we have gotten no definitive answer,” Kitchen said. “That doesn’t mean we can’t continue to talk to them, we certainly can.”

Zimmerman added a third option for annual fees, which would be a comparable, mileage-based formula that would not exceed two percent of the company’s gross revenue, if allowed by state law.

The mobility committee will consider the amendments and take a final vote on the regulations in November.