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Wednesday, May 18, 2016 by Jack Craver

Council scrambling to find replacements for Uber and Lyft

City leaders traded accusations of dishonesty over ride-hailing regulations at a meeting Tuesday as they grappled with potential solutions to the transportation void created by the recent departure of Uber and Lyft.

The debate was prompted by a resolution proposed by Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo that directs city staff to explore a number of means of helping other ride-hailing companies and taxi services in the city prosper, including city loans or technical assistance.

City Council Member Ellen Troxclair, one of only two members out of the 11-member body who backed Proposition 1, seized on recent reports that Get Me, one of the new ride-hailing companies entering the Austin market, was not fingerprinting its drivers. Uber and Lyft left Austin over a city ordinance that will require ride-hailing companies to have all of their drivers fingerprinted by early next year.

“I think we need a public conversation about whether we plan to enforce the fingerprinting requirement,” said Troxclair, who stated that the mayor and other city officials had told media that they would not enforce the law.

“We have companies that are potentially going to receive public funding that are not doing anything different than Uber and Lyft were doing,” she added.

Troxclair also read from a statement that Get Me posted on its Facebook page just after the Proposition 1 vote. The company said that filling the gap in service left by Uber and Lyft was “not really a concern or a pressing issue,” that ride-hailing was only a part of its business model and that its goal was not to “mop up whatever mess” was left by its competitors.

Troxclair wondered whether the city was hoping to depend, and possibly even financially assist, a company that would strike such a cavalier tone in regard to Austin’s transportation woes.

Council Member Don Zimmerman echoed Troxclair’s comments.

“Now we’re going to use taxpayer dollars to subsidize other companies that are doing what Uber and Lyft were doing at no burden to our taxpayers,” he said.

Council Member Ann Kitchen, the lead sponsor of the ride-hailing ordinance and the target of an unsuccessful recall effort from Uber and Lyft supporters, was visibly irked by Troxclair’s comments, accusing her colleague of making “misstatements, that you know are misstatements.”

In more diplomatic terms, Mayor Steve Adler also called Troxclair’s suggestion that the city was holding different companies to different standards inaccurate. The city had not set penalties for the fingerprinting requirement, which was not set to go into effect immediately anyway, he said. There was nothing in the city ordinance that prevented Uber and Lyft from continuing to operate in Austin, he said, and both companies left “knowing what our ordinance said.”

“To me it is feigning surprise when either Uber or Lyft look up and expect us to be doing something that was not part of our ordinance,” Adler said.

As he has in the past, Adler emphasized patience as alternatives to Uber and Lyft enter the market. There was no way, he said, that the newcomers would be able to fill the void immediately.

The mayor also rebuked Zimmerman with a rhetorical question aimed at the conservative Council member’s tendency to describe his positions as representing the will of the people in general and the residents of his suburban district in Northwest Austin in particular.

“How did your constituents vote on Prop 1?” asked Adler. Zimmerman conceded that they had voted narrowly to defeat it, but later attributed the result to voters’ confusion over the language in the referendum. The dozen or so voters he had spoken to after the referendum, he said, all agreed with him after he explained the issue to them.

Troxclair said that she wanted to work with the mayor and others to address ride-hailing, emphasizing that she hoped the solution would involve the return of Uber and Lyft. She did not back off her initial point that the city was not being forthright about whether it will enforce the fingerprinting rules.

“It’s just not honest, it’s just not truthful, it’s just not fair,” she said.

Council will debate and potentially vote on the resolution at its meeting on Thursday.

Photo by webhamster made available through a Creative Commons license.

This story has been corrected. The recall effort against Kitchen was not led by Uber and Lyft supporters, but Austin4All, an unrelated political action committee.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

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

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