TNCs in Austin: the Debate Continues

On Dec. 18, the Austin City Council voted 9-2 to pass an ordinance that would strongly encourage transportation network companies (TNCs) like Lyft and Uber to fingerprint their drivers through incentives and disincentives. Since then, there have been a lot of “what’s next?” questions.

Screen shot 2015-11-18 at 1.01.34 PMThe ordinance isn’t technically a mandate requiring TNC drivers to go through fingerprint background checks. Instead it lays the groundwork for a series of incentives for companies that comply, and penalties for those that do not meet fingerprinting benchmarks. Those benchmarks require companies to have 25 percent of their drivers fingerprinted by May 2016, with gradual increases until companies have 99 percent compliance by February 2017.

What those incentives and penalties will look like, though, is still up in the air. At its last meeting, Council said it would take up that discussion on Jan. 18. But since then, a political action committee (Ridesharing Works for Austin) has formed with the goal of collecting 20,000 signatures from Austin voters to make the interim 2014 TNC rules permanent, either through Council action or through a public election.

Jason Stanford, communications director for Mayor Steve Adler, said the conversation around those incentives and disincentives is ongoing.

“Initially, those discussions are taking place with [Mayor Adler’s] advisers in the tech, nonprofit, and law enforcement communities, as well as with representatives from Uber and Lyft and of course with City Council members,” Stanford said.

Meanwhile, a new TNC has started operating in Austin. Get Me began a personal delivery service in Austin in October, and on Dec. 4, got its TNC permit. The company, currently headquartered in Dallas, plans to relocate to Austin in 2016. Get Me has also said that it will comply with the City’s fingerprinting ordinance.

Lyft and Uber have said that they are considering leaving the Austin market if the ordinance remains in place; Lyft has said that while the word “mandatory” is not in the ordinance language, the company considers the requirement to be akin to a mandatory enforcement. Lyft spokesperson Chelsea Wilson said in a statement that “Lyft will operate in Austin until mandatory fingerprint requirements force us to leave. We will remain at the table in an effort to create a workable ordinance and preserve the benefits ridesharing brings to visitors and residents. We do not operate in cities that require mandatory fingerprint background checks.”

Stanford says Get Me’s presence in Austin does not affect the process one way or the other, although as the conversations around TNC regulations continue and Get Me comes closer to operating at scale, that may change.

Comments are closed.