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Companies missing from ride-hailing argument

Tuesday, March 29, 2016 by Jo Clifton

Former City Council Member Laura Morrison came to Monday’s Central Texas Democratic Forum to debate a representative of one of the ride-hailing companies that is forcing a vote on regulations governing transportation network companies like Uber and Lyft. But she ended up having a conversation with attorney Jason Panzer, who was pressed into service by his law partner, Chuck Herring, who runs the forum. The switch came after political consultant Joe Bowen canceled his appearance, apparently due to a medical issue. Morrison called the Uber- and Lyft-sponsored ordinance – which Austinites will have a chance to approve or reject on May 7 – “a recipe for disaster.” The big sticking point in the current ordinance – passed by Council in December – is the requirement that TNC drivers undergo fingerprint-based background checks, which the proposed ordinance would eliminate. Morrison said that an FBI fingerprint check has a 99 percent accuracy rate while the system used by Uber and Lyft has only an 88 percent accuracy rate. Panzer, who did a little research on the subject after being asked to step in for Bowen, said that as of last fall, there were 10,000 Uber drivers in Austin and that they serve transportation deserts. He said 50 percent of Austin’s drivers come from East Austin and the average wait time is just three minutes. Prior to the debate, in the effort to find Bowen’s replacement, political consultant Katie Naranjo told the Austin Monitor that she had reached out to several consultants who were supposedly working for the Uber and Lyft campaign. However, no one called her back. She said she suspected it was because those consultants were still negotiating their contracts. One of those consultants confirmed that that was the case.

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