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TNC petition is valid, and Adler has a new idea

Wednesday, February 3, 2016 by Eva Ruth Moravec

Almost as quickly as City Clerk Jannette Goodall could say that the Ridesharing Works for Austin petition signatures were valid, Mayor Steve Adler announced that he had a new idea to add to the litany of concepts already proposed for how to govern transportation network companies in Austin.

Council was already set to hear public comments at 6:30 p.m. Thursday on which of two currently available options the city should take: adopt the ordinance proposed in the petition (which would repeal a TNC ordinance passed in December) or put the matter to a public vote in May.

But Council won’t choose an option until Feb. 11, Adler said. (Members of the public who don’t comment at this week’s Feb. 4 meeting may still comment on the day of the vote.)

At that time, he hopes to have his new concept, dubbed an “innovation ordinance,” ready for a vote, too. Essentially, it’s a way to continue offering incentives for TNC drivers to get fingerprinted in case yet another TNC-related ordinance – a peer-to-peer ordinance passed last week, also spearheaded by Adler – were to face its own challenge and be repealed.

Council Member Delia Garza said that listening to Adler talk about his new proposal – and juggle the various options – is “like watching ‘The Bachelor.’ You don’t know who he’s going to pick.”

All of the pending decisions are the aftermath of the passage of the December ordinance – currently set to go into effect at the end of February – which over time would require all TNC drivers to be fingerprinted.

TNCs Uber Technologies and Lyft had threatened to leave town if fingerprinting were to become mandatory – as they have done in other cities. After the December vote, they funneled $50,000 in services and cash to the Ridesharing Works for Austin political action committee to gather signatures to overturn the ordinance. Earlier this month, the group presented to the Office of the City Clerk about one-third of the 65,000 signatures it claimed to have collected.

The signatures were gathered in late December and early January. “I’m frankly astonished at that volume of numbers over the holiday weeks,” said Council Member Don Zimmerman.

It took Goodall’s staff 400 hours to validate the signatures, which were then sent to Thomas Sager, a professor at the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas at Austin. Sager took a sample of about 6,580 signatures to analyze, and only 153 signatures were then disqualified (for being duplicative, not registered voters or other reasons).

In a Tuesday work session, Goodall said that the PAC had gathered more than the 19,765 valid signatures needed to trigger a 10-day deadline for Council to either adopt the PAC’s ordinance, which removes the requirement for fingerprinting, or put it up for a citywide vote. Goodall called the validation process “very tedious and nerve-wracking, actually,” and thanked her staff for their work.

The PAC, in an emailed statement, urged Council to adopt the ordinance, saying that was “the fastest, easiest and most affordable way forward, and will avoid the risk of a ridesharing shutdown in Austin.”

County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir has said that an election will cost up to $800,000, but some school districts with May elections could share in the overall price tag.

“We’ve interfered with a successful business model, and now we’re faced with an expensive election,” Zimmerman said, adding that he plans to move to adopt the ordinance next week “to save the money.”

Council Member Pio Renteria said he will support an election because he “thinks it’s time.”

“My district won’t let Uber and Lyft push us around. I’m not afraid, because I know in my district, they’re going to lose,” he said.

Adler asked Council to delay action on the petition so he can pen his new ordinance.

Adler said that concerns have been raised about legal challenges over the passage of last week’s peer-to-peer ordinance while the petition was under review. The ordinance rewards TNC drivers who submit their fingerprints to a third-party vendor in exchange for a badge enabling them to receive perks.

“What we did last week clearly does something to TNCs, and the legal argument could be made that we have to repeal that,” Adler said. His new proposal, he said, will likely say only that “the city can pass, by separate ordinance, an incentive program in support of TNCs.”

Photo by neusesgeld made available by a Creative Commons license.

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