Friday, April 15, 2016 by Audrey McGlinchy

Current city law not followed by Uber and Lyft drivers

Eduardo Gutierrez picked me up in his Ford Crown Victoria. I knew the make of his car and his license plate, plus I had an idea of what he looked like. But no sticker or emblem on Gutierrez’s car alerted me to the fact that he is an Uber driver. In this respect, according to city code, he and the company are outside the law.

When asked if he was offered a decal, Gutierrez said no.

“I was concerned about that,” said Gutierrez, who drives for Uber to supplement his full-time income at the University of Texas, where he has worked for more than 20 years. “How am I gonna identify myself when I pull up, just like I did to pick you up?”

Since Feb. 28, when regulations voted on by City Council members in December went into effect, ride-hailing companies such as Uber and Lyft have been required to display what the city calls “trade dress” – riders are probably most familiar with Lyft’s pink mustaches, while Uber has a sticker. According to the city, no citations have been issued yet.

But after five rides in the past two days, zero out of three Uber drivers identified their cars (and all three said they didn’t know it was mandatory), while one out of two Lyft drivers displayed an emblem (neither of these drivers said they knew it was mandatory).

In a welcome email that one Lyft driver received, the company clearly stated that current city code requires drivers to identify their affiliation with the company. The email reads, “In Austin, local officials require you to display the Lyft emblem when driving.” The company confirmed in an email that it requires its drivers to identify their vehicles.

In response to a request for comment, Uber did not directly address why some of their drivers are not following city code. In an email, a company spokesperson wrote, “The law is exactly what is up for debate on May 7.”

In a few weeks, voters will head to the polls to address Proposition 1, a set of rules submitted by Uber- and Lyft-funded political action committee Ridesharing Works for Austin. Voters will vote “yes” in support of them or “no” in support of keeping the city rules. The companies have threatened to leave should Prop 1 fail.

Background checks have drawn the most attention: The city wants fingerprint-based checks, while both Uber and Lyft say the checks they run through third parties are superior. However, Prop 1 would also do away with the trade dress requirement.

“It actually makes it more dangerous,” said Huey Rey Fischer, deputy outreach director for Ridesharing Works, at a recent press conference. “To assume that the Uber or Lyft that you’re getting into is safe because it has the sticker on it … because anybody can print an emblem.”

Lyft says it will continue to require trade dress regardless of whether Prop 1 passes.

As Jasmin Sheth, 22, drove me home, she said she had not heard from Uber that she should be driving with an emblem on her car. “If they had offered it to me, or mailed it to me, I would have totally put it on my car,” she said. “But I haven’t gotten anything.”

The college student said that if Prop 1 fails and the companies leave as they have threatened to do, she would be left with no primary source of income.

“I’m not even thinking about what would happen if I didn’t have this job,” she said, as she turned off Manor Road to drop me off at home.

This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT. Photo by Miguel Gutierrez Jr. /KUT News.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

May 2016 election

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

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