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Two Views: Legislature right to nix city control of ride-hailing

Here’s a question: Should the city that you live in set rules for how you can get a ride?

How can a city prevent two private individuals — one a willing passenger, the other a willing driver — from entering into a contract for that ride?

This very issue likely will be settled by the Texas Legislature before the session ends in about six weeks.

Uber and Lyft operate around the world and all over Texas.

Lyft, for example, operates in 28 Texas cities, according to its website, from Amarillo to Edinburg and Tyler to El Paso.

A map of Uber’s service shows heavy clusters around the Austin/San Antonio, Houston, and Dallas-Fort Worth areas, with service also offered in parts of East Texas, West Texas and the Panhandle.

Statewide pre-emption is when a state overrides the authority of a city or county’s regulations within a narrow policy area.

In a previous legislative session, the Texas legislature pre-empted local fracking ordinances on the belief that royalty owners have a right to earn royalties from their land — and that a strong energy economy in Texas is good for our state.

In some cities like Austin, reactionary liberal elected officials arbitrarily allow one type of background check over another and force transportation network companies to upend their business model by bowing down to a city’s government.

Applying the antiquated and broken taxi regulation system to groundbreaking and innovative companies like Uber and Lyft makes no sense whatsoever.

Though cities like Austin claim to be innovation capitals, they stack the deck in favor of powerful taxi companies and stifle the innovation of companies like Uber and Lyft.

Do we really expect an out-of-state business executive arriving at Austin’s airport to find a local ride-hailing company’s app, download it, enter their personal information, order a ride, wait, then take that ride? It is patently absurd.

It does not matter what city I am in, but if I arrive and neither Uber nor Lyft are available in that city, I immediately conclude that the government for that city is a train wreck and it does not care about public safety. There is simply no other reasonable conclusion to draw.

Fortunately, several bills have been filed to override these local ordinances. Three to watch are Senate Bill 361, filed by Senate TransportationCommitteeChairman Robert Nichols,R-Jacksonville, Senate Bill 176, filed by state Sen. Charles Schwertner,R-Georgetown) and House Bill 100, filed by state Rep. Chris Paddie,R-Marshall. Paddie’s bill is expected to be debated on the House floor this week.

All three bills have been heard in committee — and I expect that ultimately one of them will pass this legislative session.

Proponents of shutting down Uber and Lyft claim to do so under the guise of “public safety,” as if these global companies want to hire criminals as drivers. In fact, it is in Uber’sand Lyft’s interest not to hire drivers with criminal backgrounds, because any time a driver engages in criminal activity, it reflects poorly on the company, angers a customer, harms a victim, and costs the company money.

The incentive already exists for these companies to effectively screen their drivers.

Are we really supposed to believe that a criminal would use someone else’s identify just sohe or shecan drive for Uber and Lyft? How wouldthat driverget paid? How would they get access to the other person’s bank account?

It makes absolutely no sense.

As a conservative, I am generally in favor of local control — the belief that the government that is closest to the people is the most accountable.

But on issues where public safety is at stake — and when those affected cross geographic lines — I have no problem with statewide pre-emption if a state legislature sees fit to act.

The state of Texas needs one, uniform ride-hailing policy.

If the city of Austin chooses to be anti-innovation, the state of Texas should veto it.

Mackowiak is syndicated columnist, an Austin-based Republican consultant and a former Capitol Hill and Bush administration aide.

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