Mobility Committee Talks TNC Regs
TNC proposals now move to full Council
City Council's Mobility Committee met last week for preliminary discussions on what the framework for transportation network companies (TNCs) like Uber and Lyft will look like moving forward, now that the industry's one-year pilot program is expiring. Committee chair Ann Kitchen laid out two primary plans, centered around permitting costs and accountability, that she expects to serve as the framework for eventual tweaks as the resolution gets readied for Council.
Kitchen's proposed permitting policy is similar to the one employed for taxicab franchises: Under the regulation, TNCs would have the choice to pay the city either a $450 permitting fee per vehicle or 2% of their annual gross revenue within the city, with an understanding that future TNCs may be able to pay a set fee smaller than $450 if their fleets are smaller than those deployed by Lyft and Uber. (Council Member Delia Garza proposed that the annual gross revenue payments be reduced to 1%.) Representatives from the two companies resisted, saying that the manner in which they use drivers doesn't make it financially feasible to pay any type of set or scheduled fee, but there was little budging from Kitchen or city staff, who noted that the fees would be used to offset administration costs associated with the program.
Among those administration costs, Kitchen hopes, will be the implementation of a city-structured background check. Kitchen proposed aligning the checking process for local TNC drivers with the one used for taxi drivers, and making it such that the eligibility standards for both types of drivers be streamlined and equal. Paramount to that implementation is the introduction of fingerprinting of Uber and Lyft drivers, something the companies' representatives have been opposing since both Uber and Lyft came to Austin last summer. Last week the companies' reps said that such a requirement would prove detrimental to the on-boarding process for new drivers, and could potentially make it such that they're both unable to do business the way they'd intended when arriving here. Uber's representative in particular stressed that such a requirement may force her company to leave town. To that, Kitchen was not sympathetic. "The bottom line for me is public safety," she said. "The fingerprint is the mechanism for determining if the person who's giving you all this other information is the person who they say they are. I'm not hearing a substitute for that. ... To threaten to leave simply because we're trying to promote public safety cannot be our deciding factor."
Both provisions passed 3-1 (with CM Don Zimmerman voting against them) and will now go forward to the full Council at today's Oct. 15 meeting. Kitchen said that she expects a few more proposals to be presented when the committee meets again in November.