Austin mayor, Texas politicians discuss future of ride-hailing at Texas Tribune Festival

Sarah Philips

Austin Mayor Steve Adler discussed the future of ride-hailing Saturday with Corpus Christi Mayor Nelda Martinez, state Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano, and state Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, at the Texas Tribune Festival.

Both Austin and Corpus Christi require drivers for ride-hailing services to undergo a fingerprint background check. Uber and Lyft, the two largest companies in the industry, left Austin and Corpus Christi after the requirement became law.

The panel focused on how ride-hailing has functioned since Uber and Lyft has left these Texas cities and what the state legislature plans to do about the issue.

Adler spoke about the seven ride-hailing companies employing 5000 fingerprinted drivers in the Austin area. He attributed this rise in other companies to Austin’s culture of enterprise. 

“It created an open market,” Adler said. “It brought innovation and competition.”

Leach and Schwertner both believe that imposing regulatory measures on these ride-hailing services are evidence of big government.

“If I was able to vote for complete deregulation, I would,” Leach said at the panel.

Schwertner and Leach also reasoned that Uber and Lyft leaving Austin and Corpus Christi enhanced susceptibility to drunk driving accidents now that the two biggest names in the industry are no longer available to people who need ride-hailing services. 

Leach and Schwertner made it apparent that the state legislature would be proposing statewide regulations during the 85th legislative session, ones that would likely not include fingerprint background checks. 

Martinez said that Uber and Lyft were not forced to leave Corpus Christi or Austin.

She said that not protecting riders using the service wasn’t a risk she was willing to take.

“Uber and Lyft chose to leave,” Martinez said. “They chose to leave. Other companies chose to come in under our ordinance, and they are doing very well.”

In response, Schwertner made the point of security at the cost of freedom.

“Government is always selling you security at the cost of rights and freedoms,” Schwertner said.

The 85th legislative session will begin in January, when ride-hailing is expected to be addressed.