Council to vote on ride-hailing regulations at Thursday meeting

Forrest Milburn

City Council members are expected to choose between rolling back recently approved regulations on ride-hailing companies or putting the issue on the ballot for voters to decide at their upcoming meeting Thursday.

On Tuesday morning, Austin City Clerk Jannette Goodall announced she had verified enough petition signatures ­— at least 20,000 by law — from supporters of ride-hailing companies to force the council to decide on its next move.

Officials with Ridesharing Works for Austin, the coalition of six nonprofits supported by Uber and Lyft who organized the petition drive, said they hope the council will vote to roll back regulations stipulated in the petition, which would keep in place regulations approved by the council under former Mayor Lee Leffingwell in 2014.         

“Simply voting to reinstate the Leffingwell rules on Thursday would honor the will of over 65,000 Austinites who signed the ridesharing petition without incurring the cost of an election,” said Caroline Joiner, Ridesharing Works for Austin treasurer. “This is the fastest, easiest and most affordable way forward and will avoid the risk of a ridesharing shutdown in Austin.”

Ridesharing Works for Austin began collecting signatures for the petition after the council voted to include fingerprint background checks and other regulations in a December ordinance. After initially hoping to gather around 30,000 signatures — 10,000 more than what is required — supporters ended their petition drive with 65,103.

Council member Kathie Tovo, who voted in support of the increased December regulations and represents the district that includes UT, said she is inclined to support the motion to put the issue on the ballot, which residents would vote on in May.

“At this point, I’m going to listen to the conversation and public comments on Thursday and next week,” Tovo said. “I think the voters need to step forward and weigh in.” 

Uber driver Safi Jenkins, a human development and family sciences junior, said she believes the council should put the issue on the ballot so voters can make the final call whether to keep fingerprint background checks in the city code.

“I think the people should have a say, but a more informed say,” Jenkins said. “I can understand people wanting to feel more safe….but I think it’s important for voters to know that Uber is really against [the background checks].”

The council is set to vote on which direction to take with the petition at its meeting this Thursday.