Austin City Council Passes Ordinance Legalizing Uber, Lyft

October 19, 2014 by Laurie Lyons

It’s been months and months of near daily drama for two little apps that have caused quite a stir here in Austin. But after all of the demonstrations, the letters, the online activism, and the testifying in front of city council, Lyft and Uber (as well as Transportation Network Companies, TNCs, in general) have finally become legal in Austin, as of the ruling on Thursday, October 14, 2014. The 6-1 vote was led by Council member Chris Riley, and the only dissenting vote came from Council member Laura Morrison.

The saga of TNCs becoming legalized in Austin has been punctuated by some big bumps. Naturally, there was plenty of pushback from cab companies, as many cab drivers didn’t agree with the concept that there were plenty of customers to go around, and felt that their livelihoods were threatened. Another hurdle faced by the TNCs was the fallout from attempting to operate while the City Council deliberated and gathered data for last night’s vote; Lyft and Uber both decided to operate illegally, and therefore had to occasionally deal with drivers’ cars being towed and other setbacks.

All that has changed, and now Austinites have even more options for transportation in a city where transportation issues have become one of the biggest scars on its ever-growing reputation as an amazing place to live. KXAN reported that in the two weeks surrounding ACL, Uber drivers completed more than 100,000 trips.

The criticisms of TNCs will now be addressed, including the concern over drivers carrying proper insurance. According to KXAN, “In order to operate in the City of Austin, a TNC will have to have commercial automobile liability insurance coverage of $1 million for bodily injury and property damage. The company must also keep records of service that will be available for audits.”

Sara LeVine, founder of ATX Safer Streets, the advocacy group that fights for alternatives to drinking and driving and that played a large role in lobbying for TNCs, also elaborates on some of the changes that will happen to the transportation systems, now that they are legal.

“The fear of being ticketed or impounded will no longer loom over driver’s heads, and there is now a legal framework for dealing with issues such as insurance, background checks, inspections and consumer complaints.  The final regulations are still being drawn up, and we are looking forward to them comprehensively covering such issues as ADA compliance as well.  Consumers now know that they can call for a ride without breaking the law, and have the means to report incidents with the City.  With these regulations in place, we’d also like to see an easing of regulations against the taxi companies, to allow them more freedom in their operation as well.”

Have you used Uber or Lyft, or will you use TNCs now that they are legal in Austin? Let us know in the comments section below!

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Written by Laurie Lyons