Austin reopens debate over rules for Uber, Lyft


City of Austin leaders, having taken most of a year off from the bruising regulatory battle over online ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft, are once again looking at tighter oversight.

That renewed push filled the City Council Chambers on Wednesday afternoon with drivers for the two companies wearing pink and teal T-shirts, as well as a number of cabbies and executives from taxi, limousine and shuttle companies.

The argument before the council’s Mobility Committee was similar to the debate that roiled the previous council until it passed an interim ordinance last October. Cabbies called for a “level playing field,” and said allowing the online companies to operate with minimal city requirements will eventually bleed them out of business.

The Web-based companies, their drivers and their supporters — including a new faction, people with disabilities happy with Uber’s new wheelchair-friendly service — countered that the city is trying to fix something that isn’t broken.

Now the council is revisiting that interim ordinance, and city staffers have recommended a couple of changes, including requiring Uber and Lyft to pay the city $1 per ride provided instead of 1 percent of their revenue.

That fee, if the city institutes it, would be the highest in the country, Lyft’s director of government relations, Veronica Juarez, told the committee Wednesday.

The council could also reconsider other aspects of the interim ordinance, including the way drivers’ background checks are handled and the kind of trip data that Uber and Lyft must provide.

The Mobility Committee listened to a couple of hours of public testimony on what to do about the app-based ride providers, but took no action. Council Member Ann Kitchen, who chairs the committee, said her panel would likely consider an ordinance at its meeting in early October, with action by the full council likely also in October.


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