Uber and Lyft executives, as they did in the 2015 session, have hired more than three dozen lobbyists at a cost of at least $1.2 million to plead the case for statewide regulation of ride-hailing services rather than the “patchwork” system of local laws now in place.
Austin Mayor Steve Adler, speaking Thursday to the House Transportation Committee as it considers House Bill 100 to ban local regulation of transportation network companies, said the interests of the two ride-hailing giants would be served by the bill.
“If you’re trying to draft a law for a particular company, this statute might do the job,” Adler said during a back-and-forth with state Rep. Larry Phillips, R-Sherman. Phillips had told Adler about the consternation of a fellow airline passenger arriving at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport this week and being told that the app for her preferred ride-hailing company wouldn’t work in Austin.
“It wasn’t seen like a progressive city at the time,” Phillips said. “It was kind of an embarrassing thing for the people from Austin” on the flight.
Adler noted that “we didn’t ask Uber and Lyft to leave” last year. The companies — unhappy with a December 2015 Austin ordinance that required fingerprinting of ride hailing drivers, that their cars have identifying markings of the companies, and that there be monthly, detailed reporting of rides — turned off their apps in Austin on May 9, two days after Austin voters rejected a substitute ordinance the companies devised.
Other ride-hailing startup companies have stepped in since. Phillips pointed to a much publicized several-hour shutdown of two of those companies’ apps last weekend. Adler countered that Uber had experienced a similar crash during last year’s Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, which he attended.
HB 100, carried by state Rep. Chris Paddie, R-Marshall, is identical to Senate Bill 176 by state Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown. That bill, and two others also taking ride-hailing rules statewide, were discussed in a Senate committee Tuesday and haven’t yet been voted on. The legislation from Paddie, who unsuccessfully carried a ride-hailing regulation bill in 2015, has 63 co-sponsors in the 150-member House. The transportation committee didn’t vote on the bill Thursday.
The bill wouldn’t require drivers to be fingerprinted for criminal background checks, as is mandated in Austin, Houston and Corpus Christi. That stipulation, among others, was critical to Uber’s and Lyft’s decision to leave in May. Uber still operates in Houston.
Committee members and some witnesses in support of HB 100 were at pains to defend Uber’s and Lyft’s method of checking prospective drivers’ background. The companies use third-party companies that scan public records based on applicants’ names, dates of birth and Social Security numbers.
“We know that no particular method is the magic key to preventing crime,” said Tim Ryle, chief deputy sheriff of Williamson County and a former Round Rock police chief. “Our state prisons are full of people who committed a new crime but have fingerprints on file. “Since Austin passed its ordinance, Uber and Lyft have continued to operate up in Williamson County, and we have had no crimes reported with their service.”
Paddie said the bill is about nurturing a valuable service, not its primary practitioners.
“This is not a bill about a specific city or specific company,” he said. “This is a bill about creating regulatory certainty for a growing industry.”