Uber and Lyft send a “deceptive” message in a commercial running on Austin television, former Austin City Council Member Laura Morrison said Tuesday, charging that the ride-hailing companies have “poured millions of dollars into a disinformation campaign, misleading the public by pretending that the council wants to drive them out of town.”
Morrison pointed to a sentence near the end of that 60-second spot, which shows a series of serene-looking drivers and passengers riding around while an announcer talks about the ride-hailing companies’ safety practices. The spot, paid for by the Ridesharing Works for Austin political action committee (itself wholly financed by Uber and Lyft), is called “Safety we can count on.”
The troubling sentence for Morrison is: “On May 7, vote for Prop. 1 to require Uber and Lyft to keep doing criminal background checks.” However, drivers for the transportation network companies would be required to undergo criminal background checks no matter how the election comes out. What the vote will determine is whether those background checks are based on information such as drivers’ names, Social Security numbers and driver’s licenses (if Proposition 1 passes) or also on fingerprinting (if voters reject Prop. 1).
“It does a disservice to the people of Austin for them to be casting it that way,” Morrison said, “when the fact of the matter is Prop. 1 would forbid the recommended and critical background checks of fingerprinting.”
Travis Considine, a spokesman for Ridesharing Works, swatted back Morrison’s critique.
“The ad is accurate,” Considine said in an email. “A vote for Prop. 1 keeps things operating as they have since City Council acted two years ago. Plain and simple. It is the ballot language which is engineered to be misleading.”
Morrison spoke at a news conference called by Prop. 1 opponents and attended by about 100 supporters, including six members of the current City Council, Travis County Commissioner Brigid Shea and former state Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos. The Our City, Our Safety, Our Choice political action committee, which is fighting an up-Everest financial battle at this point with Uber and Lyft, organized the event.
The speakers doubled down on what has become the primary anti-Prop. 1 talking point: that Uber and Lyft, having plowed about $2.2 million into the May 7 campaign, are trying to purchase their own regulatory scheme in Austin. The Our City PAC, in financial reports turned in last week, showed about $15,000 spent so far, less than 1 percent of what Uber and Lyft have put in.
“We cannot let businesses regulate themselves,” said former Austin school board President Gina Hinojosa, who is the Democratic candidate for state House District 49. “I don’t care how cool or innovative or useful they are.”
Former Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell, named this week to be chairman of the Ridesharing Works campaign effort, was part of the majority in a 6-1 council vote in October 2014 that passed an ordinance very similar to the one that would become Austin law again if Prop. 1 passes. Neither that 2014 law nor the proposed company-back ordinance underlying Prop. 1 require ride-hailing companies’ drivers to be fingerprinted as part of a background check.
But an ordinance passed by the current council in December does require fingerprinting, something Uber and Lyft oppose. Prop. 1 would repeal that December ordinance.
Leffingwell, in an interview with the American-Statesman, said he is being compensated for his role in the campaign but declined to say how much. He rejected the idea that Uber and Lyft are imposing their own regulations.
“What Uber and Lyft did was appeal the City Council decision with a legal state process involving a petition, and leave the final decision to the voters,” Leffingwell said. “(Save Our Springs) was done this way, the no-smoking ordinance was done this way, the 10-1 council was done this way.
“It is not like the City Council is totally sovereign in this matter.”