Uber, Lyft halt Austin service after May 7 election but ‘not giving up’

Ride-hailing companies and Austin officials are seeking resolution to the regulatory debate that resulted in a citywide election and led to some companies suspending operations within the city.

Ride-hailing services Uber and Lyft stopped service in Austin on May 9 following the May 7 failure of a ballot proposition that would have removed some regulations—including a requirement for fingerprint-based background checks for drivers—for such companies, but representatives from both companies expressed hope for the future.

“We’re not giving up,” Lyft spokesperson Chelsea Wilson said. “We will continue fighting for people in Austin to have modern options like Lyft.”

Uber representatives would not state whether the company is in talks with city leaders but said they look forward to future conversations with the city and “are open to working with elected officials who are interested in modernizing the city’s regulations for ridesharing.”

Uber operates in Houston, which requires fingerprint-based checks, but the company states it will also stop service there if Houston does not reform its regulations. 

There are at least three ride-hailing companies operating in Austin, including Dallas-based Get Me. City Council passed a measure May 19 that aims to connect those companies to city resources for small businesses and help them grow to fill the void created by Uber and Lyft’s departure.

The May 7 election sought to reverse a ride-hailing ordinance passed in December and, since the ballot proposition failed, those regulations still stand. But the December ordinance was “incomplete,” according to Mayor Steve Adler, and did not include enforcement or specific penalties for ride-hailing companies that do not comply with fingerprint-based background checks.

As a result, the city does not have a mechanism to ensure compliance with each section of the December ordinance, and ride-hailing companies currently operating in the city may not be fingerprinting their drivers, District 8 Council Member Ellen Troxclair said.

Troxclair pushed City Council during May 17 and May 19 meetings to either enforce compliance with the December ordinance or invite Uber and Lyft to resume service in Austin, but as of press time May 20, council had not taken any action to do either of those things.

In a May 11 interview with Community Impact Newspaper, Get Me co-founder Jonathan Laramy said the ride-hailing company always intended to require fingerprint-based background checks but was still in the process of selecting a company to provide the checks and a method for administering them, potentially in collaboration with the city or other ride-hailing companies.

Some Uber and Lyft drivers are providing service outside the city and are able to transport passengers into or through Austin as long as the rides do not originate within city limits, company representatives said.

To assist drivers who lost revenue opportunities after Uber and Lyft stopped operating in Austin, the city held a three-day driver resource fair May 17-19 and established a driver help hotline in partnership with United Way of Greater Austin. The hotline number is 512-687-7441.