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Jo Clifton is the Politics Editor for the Austin Monitor.
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Sunday, April 12, 2015 by Jo Clifton
Local witnesses urge legislators to reject TNC bill
The House Transportation Committee heard numerous witnesses Thursday both supporting and opposing HB 2440, which would designate the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles as the state agency charged with issuing permits and overseeing rules for transportation networking companies such as Uber and Lyft.
The proposal would also eliminate city regulations for such companies. For that reason, various cities, including Austin, opposed the bill. At the end of the hearing, the committee left the bill pending, which opponents are taking as a good sign.
While there were many witnesses on both sides, local disability advocate Jennifer McPhail was one of the most passionate. McPhail pointed out that the legislation under consideration would allow transportation networking companies to buy their way out of offering services for the disabled.
The legislation says that any company that cannot provide transportation for wheelchairs would pay a $10,000 fee and be relieved of that responsibility.
McPhail talked about how many cities she has been stuck in, unable to find transportation. “People shouldn’t be getting stuck when they travel for work or when they travel for fun with their families,” she said. “In many instances in my life, I’ve served this community. I’ve served in times of crisis, and I’ve served the Democratic Party on different occasions, and I should be able to expect that my leaders for the state of Texas would serve me in return.”
McPhail said the legislators and the transportation companies should simply “do the right thing” so that people with disabilities would not have this problem in the future.
Ed Kargbo, president of Yellow Cab Austin, also opposes the bill, which would allow less stringent background checks on Uber and Lyft drivers, for example, than those required for cabdrivers. In urging the committee to require background checks with fingerprints, he said transportation companies “that think they can provide a lower level of responsibility and accountability in Texas than they do in New York, they can take their business back to California.”
Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo also testified against the legislation on Austin’s behalf.
State Rep. Chris Paddie (R-Marshall), who authored the bill, presented a committee substitute, raising the annual registration fee for transportation network companies from $5,000 to $115,000 and allowing municipalities to regulate transportation services at their airports. That is not a big enough change to satisfy the cities or the cab companies, but it would prevent the smaller competitors from entering the market.
The Transportation Committee will likely meet again Thursday and may take up the matter again.
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