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TNC ordinance heads to Austin voters

Friday, February 12, 2016 by Eva Ruth Moravec

City Council late Thursday opted not to adopt an ordinance governing transportation network companies that was proposed through a citizens petition, setting the stage for a city-wide vote May 7.

Council Member Don Zimmerman abstained from the vote, and Council members Ellen Troxclair and Sheri Gallo voted to pass the item. All others on the dais opposed adopting the ordinance, which was proposed by the political action committee Ridesharing Works for Austin.

The PAC – which gathered well over the requisite 20,000 petition signatures in December – released a statement shortly after the vote, saying, in part, that it was “confident” Austinites will vote to support its ordinance.

“An unprecedented 65,000 people have already supported this ballot initiative, so we’re looking forward to a successful campaign,” the statement said.

For now, Mayor Steve Adler’s idea to offer incentives for drivers who voluntarily get fingerprinted appears to be off the table. He proposed the incentives – such as premium pick-up and drop-off access to events like the Austin City Limits music festival – in order to present Austinites with the option of riding with a driver who had been fingerprinted, and spent weeks meeting with stakeholders.

“I have been in search of a solution, but I object to having it called a compromise,” Adler said Thursday.

Council will finalize the ballot language next week, but what is certain is that voters will weigh in on the PAC’s ordinance. The proposal would replace an ordinance passed in December that would eventually require TNC drivers to pass a fingerprint-based background check.

After the December ordinance was passed into law, the PAC – which Uber Technologies and Lyft have supported with $50,000 in cash and in-kind donations – began to gather signatures to repeal the law.

Nicole Redler, a Lyft driver who was involved in the signature drive, said the public vote is “disappointing after all our hard work. It’s very frustrating, but it is what it is.”

She said she’ll be involved with lobbying efforts to encourage Austinites to adopt the ordinance. The taxi industry, which has pushed for TNC drivers to face the same restrictions it does, undoubtedly will also be involved, though representatives were tight-lipped about their future efforts Thursday.

“This election pits the citizens of Austin and the Austin City Council against corporate entities,” Ed Kargbo, president of Yellow Cab Austin, told the Austin Monitor.

David Passmore, president of the Taxi Drivers Association of Austin, said he was still digesting the decisions Council members made but said the election was “a good way going forward.”

He said taxi drivers “would make some effort” to influence the election, but “how strong it will be is uncertain. We will be trying to educate the public on what they are voting on.”

Council took its vote Thursday night after hearing from dozens of citizens who addressed it this week and last week. Several speakers, like Laurie Felker Jones, encouraged Council to “stand firmly for public safety” and reject the ordinance, saying, “It’s not the city’s job to make things easier” for TNCs.

“I like my Uber like I like my Blue Bell ice cream – I want to enjoy its product without having to worry about it causing me bodily harm,” she said.

In a statement, Uber spokeswoman Jaime Moore said Council “missed an opportunity to listen to those voices and prevent a costly election. We are inspired by the Austinites who have offered their continuous support, and we are optimistic that they will speak out once more with their votes on May 7.”

Photo by Quinn Dombrowski –, CC BY-SA 1.0,

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