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Riley resolution to offer Uber/Lyft regulations

Friday, September 12, 2014 by Michael Kanin

Austin City Council Member Chris Riley plans to introduce a resolution at Council’s Sept. 25 meeting that would attempt to establish regulations to allow Transportation Network Companies such as Uber and Lyft to operate legally in the City of Austin.

Though Riley was not yet ready to talk about all of the operational details of the document, he offered the Monitor insight into the thinking behind it. “Austin should be leading the nation in embracing new transportation options,” Riley said via email. “Instead, at this point we’re using scarce public safety resources to impound vehicles and take options away. We can do better than that. If we can be assured that a company like Uber or Lyft is operating safely, we ought to work cooperatively with them to make this kind of service legal and readily available.”

The resolution will allow a working group currently vetting the issue to add real-world data to its efforts. Some may hope the group could learn from ongoing TNC operations and apply that knowledge to its efforts.

Riley will hold a news conference about the resolution Monday. Austin Police Association head Wayne Vincent will be there. Vincent told the Monitor that the union is supportive of the potential rules change.

“It’s no secret that the fact that alternatives for transportation especially late at night and during special events are needed,” said Vincent.

Transportation Network Companies are sometimes referred to as ride-sharing outlets. The concept allows often-mobile electronic hailing of and payment to otherwise informal drivers, who are paid by the firms. Lyft and Uber are two of the more well-known practitioners.

Though city officials have cited TNC drivers and impounded their vehicles, the companies do not believe they are operating illegally — and they continue to operate in the City of Austin.

When asked whether he was privy to any quantitative details that might illustrate the amount of time Austin Police Department officers spend enforcing laws that prohibit the operations of firms such as Lyft and Uber, Vincent said he had none. Still, he said: “I do know that special notes were put out to police officers” about such enforcement.

Vincent said that officer time could be better spent “whether we’re spending a lot of time or a little time” on the issue.

According to up-to-date figures from the City of Austin’s Transportation Department, more than 80 collective citations have been issued to drivers and TNC operators by law enforcement. Those figures run through Sept. 2.

Traditional cab companies have been deeply critical of ride-sharing outlets. Their concerns include what they insist are lack of insurance and proper driver vetting. Austin Yellow Cab President Ed Kargbo was reluctant to talk about the resolution until he’d seen finalized details. He offered only: “With technology comes responsibility.”

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