After a late night of deliberations last Thursday, Austin City Council members passed new rules for Transportation Network Companies (TNCs) that require fingerprint-based background checks, and will also require a fee and new reporting regulations from TNCs. The new ordinance will go into effect Feb. 1, 2016.
The ordinance passed with a 9-2 vote, with Council members Don Zimmerman and Ellen Troxclair casting the opposing votes.
TNCs will have several months to complete the background checks. Council will also be considering another ordinance in the new year that would include incentives – and disincentives – to make complying with the new rules more appealing for TNCs.
The vote came amid threats from Uber and Lyft that they would pull out of Austin should the new regulations be put in place, as well as calls from groups and individuals including the Real Estate Council of Austin (RECA) and Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo to not adopt the new rules.
“The City Council has a critical choice to make: maintain a model ordinance that creates flexible jobs for Austinites looking to make ends meet, provides more transportation options, fights congestion and drunk driving; or impose onerous operating requirements on TNCs that could very well force Lyft and Uber to leave Austin, as happened in San Antonio when faced with similar mandates. The City of San Antonio realized the error of its ways and quickly brought these transportation providers back after only a few months,” RECA wrote in a blog post before the Council vote.
While Uber and Lyft supporters say that the companies provide a valuable service that can help ameliorate Austin’s gridlock, others worry that the current security measures that the companies take are not enough, and that riders may be at risk. Both Uber and Lyft have vocally defended their background check processes.
After the meeting ended, Lyft issued a statement that said “Lyft will operate in Austin until mandatory fingerprint requirements force us to leave. In the meantime, we will remain at the table in an effort to create a workable ordinance and preserve the benefits ride-sharing brings to visitors and residents. We do not operate in cities that require mandatory fingerprint background checks.”
At the same time, a new TNC, Get Me, has just begun providing rides in Austin. That company has said it will comply with the fingerprint requirements.
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