Safety risk outweighs convenience of Uber, Lyft

Noah M. Horwitz

Let us get something straight: Uber and Lyft did not invent anything. There is no comparison to typewriters and horses-and-buggies. They provide the same service as traditional taxicabs; they just openly flout the law. In doing so, they can provide a cheaper service.

The young and the young-at-heart who dominate this city do not think about such complexities in the midst of inebriation, when attempting to procure transportation to and from watering holes on Sixth Street or elsewhere. The public assumes the government will ensure and enforce pertinent laws on safety and competitiveness, but the City of Austin has abdicated its responsibility.

Perhaps the most controversial of these is a requirement for cab drivers to have fingerprint-based background checks. Any driver of Yellow Cab, Lone Star Cab or the myriad other traditional taxi companies has to be fingerprinted. It is not cheap, but it is a much more effective way of determining whether someone is suitable to provide this service.

Uber and Lyft, unsurprisingly, contend that their non-fingerprint background check is better. Of course, these assertions are not based in reality.

Take the case of Duncan Burton. Last year, while driving for Uber, he was accused of raping a female passenger who had passed out drunk in the backseat of his car. He did not have a city license. Worse yet, Uber’s fingerprint-free background check somehow overlooked Burton’s 14-year stint in federal prison for drug dealing.

Uber and Lyft complain about being forced out of the market, but they really just do not want to play by the same rules everyone else must follow. Instead of paying for fingerprint background checks to protect the public, a $68 billion company wants to pick up its ball and go home.

But first, Uber and Lyft are attempting to railroad over the Austin City Council, which rightly sought to impose reasonable safety regulations, by compelling a referendum on this fingerprinting issue.

Astroturf and right-wing groups are going to attempt to frame this issue with fancy buzzwords like “innovation” and “technology,” but don’t buy it. This is just another lame attempt by Uber and Lyft to skirt the law and cut corners. 

This is not the way that the world works. Private companies, especially those among the largest in the world, are not supposed to extort municipal governments into falling in line. It is especially shameful that the City of Austin, which ostensibly prides itself on being progressive and otherwise pure from improper corporate interference, has been so desperate to placate these bullies.

Everyone should play by the same rules. Either they all follow the vehicle-for-hire regulations, they all don’t or they all follow some mixture. But Uber and Lyft want to ignore the rules their competitors must follow. Perhaps the most significant of these are the aforementioned fingerprint background checks. That is why Uber and Lyft are attempting to change the rules to just benefit them. They win, and everyone else loses.

Vote No on Prop 1. Vote against this laziness, and vote for equity in the law and safety for the general public.

Horwitz is a government senior from Houston. He formerly lobbied on behalf of Yellow Cab. Follow Horwitz on Twitter @NmHorwitz.