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Jo Clifton is the Politics Editor for the Austin Monitor.
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Monday, February 8, 2016 by Jo Clifton
Adler unveils new TNC proposal
Mayor Steve Adler on Sunday revealed that he has been working with a representative of Lyft, one of the transportation network companies that has been backing an initiative on the May 7 ballot to prevent the city from enforcing mandatory fingerprinting for TNC drivers. Adler said he has been discussing with attorney Michael Whellan, who represents Lyft, the idea of entering into a Memorandum of Understanding with the TNCs.
On Sunday night, Whellan confirmed that he had been talking to the mayor about the possibility of an MOU. “All I can say is that Mayor Adler has brought us a novel idea and we are discussing it. He has not committed either,” Whellan said via text message.
In response to a question about the participation of Uber, Whellan said, “They are being kept abreast and they also have not committed to anything.”
If the TNCs and five of Adler’s City Council colleagues agree to the deal on Thursday, the proposed mandatory fingerprinting of TNC drivers – part of a December ordinance that has yet to go into effect – would be eliminated, and the city would not be required to have an election on the question in May.
In addition, the mayor said, Uber and Lyft would enter into a contract with the city, the first of its kind in the nation.
Adler’s new proposal was detailed in a post-Super Bowl missive on the City Council Message Board. In short, he proposes that Council adopt a “default ordinance” that is more like the one put forward in the petition from the political action committee Ridesharing Works for Austin, “but which specifically allows for the voluntary incentive or badge or Thumbs Up! program (but specifically not mandatory fingerprinting) and other safety related items. It would be those differences, then, that would form the basis for the election in May.”
To that end, Adler has drafted on his own an “Innovation Ordinance” for community discussion and Council review. He said, “We’re just at a point in time where I really want the community to have a chance to comment on the different options that are being pursued. I wish there was more time.” The mayor is under pressure because Council has only until Thursday either to set an election or to adopt the initiative set forth in the petition sponsored by Ridesharing Works for Austin.
Alternately, Adler maintains, “The Council could seek to achieve fingerprinted TNC drivers at scale without an election in May if it were possible to enter into an enforceable contract with Uber and Lyft that would go along and beside the adoption of the Initiative Ordinance. Such a contract or Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) would need to find middle ground that will still, for the City, provide a path to the goal.”
The two companies have threatened to leave town – as they have done in other cities, except Houston – if fingerprinting were to become mandatory. After the December vote, they funneled $50,000 in services and cash to the PAC to gather signatures to force an election. Last week, City Clerk Janette Goodall confirmed that the PAC had turned in enough signatures to force Council to decide between adopting the TNC proposed ordinance and having a May election.
Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir has said that an election would cost up to $800,000, but some school districts with May elections could share in the overall price tag.
Under the petition-proposed ordinance, the city would be able to collect only a 1 percent fee on revenues from TNCs instead of the 2 percent it would collect under the mandatory ordinance Council approved in December. Adler said he has received an estimate of $400,000 to $500,000 for each 1 percent. However, he said he is hopeful the city would receive additional money “as part of the side agreement” he hopes to enter into with the TNCs.
The mayor said that he and Whellan would be meeting again today.
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