Friday, April 8, 2016 by Audrey McGlinchy

Cab driver background checks go national

For once, rules batted around on the dais did not concern Uber and Lyft drivers.

City Council members Thursday approved nationwide criminal background checks for would-be chauffeur permit holders – those authorized to drive taxicabs, pedicabs, limos or city charter buses. It’s another step in what has been a lengthy attempt to align the regulations that govern cab drivers and ride-hailing companies such as Uber and Lyft.

Albeit, a tiny step.

“All it does is make changes to the chauffeur’s license to make it clear that they’re national criminal background checks, which is something we’ve been talking about for a very long time,” said Council Member Ann Kitchen.

Uber and Lyft drivers have been subject to national background checks since 2014, when the previous Council passed regulations for these companies. However, prior to Thursday’s vote, a chauffeur license background check involved a search of records outside of Texas only if the applicant had lived in the state for fewer than three years.

Thursday’s ordinance also covered other territory, with regulations laying out specific driver eligibility rules for both ride-hailing companies and drivers seeking chauffeur permits. But Council decided to hold off on approving the remainder of these, including a list of specific criminal convictions that would bar an applicant from receiving a permit.

The proposed list of nearly 20 crimes includes violent ones, such as murder and aggravated assault. But Council Member Greg Casar said Thursday that the list was too lengthy – and therefore potentially discriminatory. Council sent it back to staff.

“Many of (the listed offenses) seem to be very harsh, like if you’ve ever been convicted of theft at any point, you can never get a chauffeur’s permit,” Casar said from the dais. “That seems like too much, and I’d like for the staff to work on that and fix it.”

These same offenses have ruled out potential Uber and Lyft drivers for some time, as mandated by regulations passed in 2014.

Council Member Don Zimmerman bemoaned piecemeal approval of this item, urging members to delay a vote on anything concerning ground transportation until May or June – after the May 7 vote on regulations governing Uber and Lyft. But his colleagues did not heed his call. Instead, they passed the nationwide checks for chauffeur permits on a near unanimous vote, 9-1, with Council Member Leslie Pool absent.

This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT.

Update: Here is the audio from McGlinchy’s radio piece.

Photo by Henning 48 made available through a Creative Commons license.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

Austin City Council: The Austin City Council is the body with legislative purview over the City of Austin. It offers policy direction, while the office of the City Manager implements administrative actions based on those policies. Until 2012, the body contained seven members, including the city's Mayor, all elected at-large. In 2012, City of Austin residents voted to change that system and now 10 members of the Council are elected based on geographic districts. The Mayor continues to be elected at-large.

Transportation Network Companies: Companies that provide transportation services through applications such as Uber or Lyft.

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