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TNC speakers: 10 for election, 7 for adoption

Friday, February 5, 2016 by Eva Ruth Moravec

City Council could be poised to call for an election for a transportation network company ordinance, as the majority of speakers urged it to do Thursday night.

“Based on what we’ve heard, we probably are on our way to a May election,” said Council Member Don Zimmerman as the hour-long hearing ended.

The 19 speakers were told to keep their comments limited to Council’s two options regarding a citizens petition calling for overturning an ordinance regulating TNCs. That ordinance, passed in December, requires TNC drivers eventually to be fingerprinted.

Next Thursday, Council must decide whether to adopt the ordinance proposed by the citizens group – a political action committee called Ridesharing Works for Austin – or to put the ordinance before voters. The public will be able to comment on the two options then as well, but speakers who addressed Council this week won’t be able to do so next week.

In addition to eliminating the fingerprinting requirement, the PAC’s ordinance differs from the December one in that it calls for TNCs to pay the city a fee of 1 percent of their annual revenue. But several of the 10 speakers who asked Council to call for a public vote raised issues over other parts of the PAC’s proposal.

David Witte, with ADAPT of Texas, spoke from a wheelchair about the accessibility community’s concerns with the proposed rules. One example: The PAC’s ordinance states that TNC drivers should accommodate service animals but that, if they can’t, they should recommend another transportation option.

“That’s not what ADA says,” Witte said. “The law says that they have to comply.”

A few speakers gave hearing attendees a glimpse of the signature-gathering process, which took place in December and netted well over the required 19,965 valid signatures from registered voters. Some, like speaker David King, have said that the PAC’s proposal is a result of bullying, since Uber and Lyft funneled $50,000 in services and cash to the PAC.

“I was out there canvassing with them as well,” said Nick Reed, media coordinator for the Libertarian Party of Texas and a driver for both Uber and Lyft. “We told them the initiative was to keep current regulations or put it up for a vote.”

Reed said that instructions to petition signers took “five seconds” and added that the proposed language was on the back of petitions, but “it wasn’t everybody who sat there and read it.”

Whether they read the language or not, more than 65,000 people signed the petition, the PAC claims. Several people wearing hot pink Lyft T-shirts were among those urging Council to adopt the PAC’s language, saying the petition’s success shows what Austinites want.

Lyft “provides a great, economical opportunity,” said Demetria Lee, adding that the service is especially beneficial for people “who have no alternative public transportation system.”

Lee also said that the system is safe as it is, alluding to the fact that the companies currently conduct their own background checks, which look at drivers’ criminal records from the previous seven years. Mayor Steve Adler has said that after listening to public safety officials – who say that the services help cut down on drunken driving, but also claim that fingerprint-based background checks are safer than the companies’ checks – he wants Austinites who wish to have a fingerprinted driver to have that option.

Next week, Adler plans to propose language either as an amendment to the December ordinance or, if it is repealed, as a replacement that still allows the city to implement incentives for fingerprinting to provide that choice.

Photo by Alexander Torrenegra from Secaucus, NJ (New York Metro), United States – On my first @Uber ride in Bogota heading to a Startup Weekend. Priceless easiness and safety. I love disruptive innovation., CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=37982760.

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