Commentary: Texas leaders should embrace ride-hailing statewide

Artists, innovators and entertainers traveling to Austin for South by Southwest may be surprised when they open up their favorite ride-hailing apps and find they aren’t an option in the city. While a handful of smaller transportation networking companies still operate here, giants Uber and Lyft do not.

Last year, Austin held a special election for a ballot initiative, supported by Uber and Lyft, that would have overturned the City Council’s mandated fingerprint background checks for TNC drivers in the city. Frustrated by the tone of the campaign — and perhaps confused by the ballot measure language — voters rejected the measure, and Uber and Lyft subsequently ceased operations in the city.

Meanwhile, Uber and Lyft are available in more than a dozen other cities around the state. The rules for ride-hailing companies and drivers vary by city, which presents several challenges for a technology that often transcends multiple jurisdictions. Dallas has different rules than Fort Worth, but people still travel all over the metro area. And consider all the other rural communities and growing cities across the state that could benefit from ride-hailing technology. You would need more than a thousand local ordinances for ride-hailing companies.

Texas needs legislation regulating TNCs at the statewide level. From a public policy perspective, it’s the best way to bring the opportunities and benefits that accompany innovative technology to more people.

When it comes to creating an environment that allows the private sector to grow and create jobs, Texas is usually at the top of the list. But of the 37 states that have a uniform law regulating how TNCs operate, Texas is not one of them – yet.

The Texas House and Senate are considering legislation that would create a legal framework for all ride-hailing services – including Uber and Lyft – to operate statewide. State Sen. Charles Schwertner (R-Georgetown) spoke favorably of the disruptive nature of ride-hailing and its economic potential for the state, saying such services “represent an innovative mobility solution and a valuable source of employment for countless Texans.”

Ride-hailing services lower barriers to entrepreneurship while enhancing public safety. People who drive for Uber and Lyft generally do so to earn extra income as they pursue other goals or tend to other responsibilities.

At a local level, ride-hailing services help make communities safer by providing people with the opportunity for a safe ride home after a late night. Nearly a quarter of Lyft rides occur between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., and 47 percent of Lyft passengers use the app during hours when public transportation has ceased. An astounding 88 percent of people ages 21 and older say Uber makes it easier to avoid driving after drinking.

Texas’ state leaders have an opportunity to embrace ride-hailing statewide. So while you’re in town for SXSW, it’s good to be aware that just down the street at the Capitol, lawmakers are working very hard to make this happen.

Shapiro is president and CEO of the Consumer Technology Association, which represents more than 2,200 consumer technology companies. He is the author of “Ninja Innovation: The Ten Killer Strategies of the World’s Most Successful Businesses.”

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