Ballot Language Set for May 7 TNC Rules Vote

February 27, 2016 by Kate Harrington

The process of working out if and how transportation network companies (TNCs) will stay in Austin – an issue that some frame as a crucial part of Austin’s mobility challenges – has been anything but dull. And now the decision over whether or not to require fingerprint-based background checks for Uber and Lyft drivers will rest on voters’ shoulders.

On Feb. 18, Council set a May 7 referendum date and gave the green light to ballot language. Council members voted 9-2 to approve the language, with Councilmembers Don Zimmerman and Ellen Troxclair voting against it.

Voters will see this question on ballots:

“Shall the City Code be amended to repeal City Ordinance No. 20151217-075 to repeal and prohibit required fingerprinting, repeal the requirement to identify the vehicle with a distinctive emblem, repeal the prohibition against loading and unloading passengers in a travel lane and require other regulations for Transportation Network Companies?”

The election could cost the city between $500,000 and $800,000.

If you haven’t been following the back and forth proposals and petitions, this ordinance asks voters to choose between the proposed ordinance that Uber and Lyft support, and the ordinance that Council passed in December. Uber and Lyft both back Ridesharing Works, a political action committee that circulated a petition in January to ask Council to change the TNC regulations. That petition got 65,000 signatures.

Council’s ordinance makes fingerprinting a mandatory part of background checks for TNC drivers, and requires TNCs to pay fees to the City. The Ridesharing Works ordinance would roll back those requirements. Both Uber and Lyft have threatened to pull out of Austin if the fingerprinting requirements stay in place. A third TNC, GetMe, has said it will comply with fingerprinting.

Mayor Steve Adler has also proposed badges for drivers who choose to be fingerprinted, called Thumbs Up, as a way to incentivize the background check. The Austin Monitor reports that the Thumbs Up idea is still moving forward.

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Written by Kate Harrington

Kate is a former reporter, most recently for the Austin Business Journal, where she covered real estate, economic development and transportation. Since 2010 she has been running Thumbtack Communications. Thumbtack provides writing, editing and marketing services. Before moving to Austin in 2002 Kate lived in her native New England, which she still visits often to escape the Texas heat.