Austin City Council approves fingerprinting of drivers for ride-hailing companies

At an Austin City Council meeting Dec. 17, drivers from ride-hailing companies attended to hear discussion on an item that could affect transportation network companies.

At an Austin City Council meeting Dec. 17, drivers from ride-hailing companies attended to hear discussion on an item that could affect transportation network companies.

Updated Dec. 18, 3 p.m.

In a roundtable discussion with reporters Dec. 18, Austin Mayor Steve Adler explained the fingerprint-based background check approved in the ride-hailing ordinance is neither mandatory nor optional.

Adler said the ordinance that was passed regulating companies such as Uber and Lyft is unfinished because council has yet to have the discussion on mandatory or optional fingerprinting for drivers of transportation network companies, or TNCs. He said council will discuss that at the Jan. 28 meeting along with incentives.

“We need to figure out a way to maintain TNCs while pushing incentivizing TNC drivers to pursue fingerprinting as part of the background check,” he said.

Although the ordinance does set benchmarks for 99 percent of TNC drivers to be fingerprinted, Adler said he is optimistic that it could happen without making fingerprint-based checks mandatory.

“I think that the community could get to a tipping point where if we’re able to establish that culture in our city and/or if we can meet that need in our city then maybe we have a product that works,” he said. “… I choose to believe that there is a way for us to have both TNC coverage as well as the safety we want in this community.”

Original story, posted Dec. 18, 1:45 a.m.

After five hours of discussion ending around 1:30 a.m. Dec. 18, Austin City Council approved changes to the city’s ordinance regulating ride-hailing companies such as Uber and Lyft, including fingerprint-based background checks for drivers.

The ordinance will aim to create incentives and disincentives for drivers that are fingerprinted, and council will discuss incentives at a later date. Mayor Steve Adler said incentives could include using geofencing to allow drivers who have been fingerprinted better access to picking up passengers during major events.

Austin City Council meeting Dec. 17 Members of a large crowd at an Austin City Council meeting Dec. 17 show their support and opposition to an agenda item to regulate transportation network companies such as Uber and Lyft in Austin.[/caption]

“I’m more convinced now that our ability as community to get our drivers to fingerprint themselves is greater,” he said.

The ordinance also sets four benchmarks for TNC companies to have drivers fingerprinted as well as potential penalties for failing to meet those benchmarks. TNCs will have to meet 99 percent driver compliance by Feb. 1, 2017. Council will also discuss penalties later.

Representatives from Uber and Lyft say fingerprinting creates barriers for people becoming drivers as many work part time. However, newcomer Get Me—a delivery and ride-hailing app company that launched its ride-hailing services Dec. 15—supports fingerprinting drivers.

Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Adler said there is nothing in what council passed that should stop any TNC from operating.

"[The ordinance] has a requirement but no sanction associated with not meeting that requirement," he said.

Even if fingerprinting were not mandatory, April Mims, senior manager for government relations for Lyft, said it would not work with the company’s business model. This is because drivers can drive whenever and for however long they want, she said.

Lyft spokesperson Chelsea Wilson said in a statment that Lyft will continue to operate in Austin until mandatory fingerprint requirements are implemented. The company does not operate in any city with mandatory fingerprinting.

“In the meantime, we will remain at the table in an effort to create a workable ordinance and preserve the benefits ridesharing brings to visitors and residents,” she said.

Houston implemented mandatory fingerprinting, and Lyft ceased operations. Uber still operates in Houston, but representative Adam Blinick said there are issues that have affected its quality of service.

In San Antonio where drivers may choose to go through the fingerprint process, Blinick said it will appear on the driver’s profile whether he or she had chosen to go through the process.

“We have a holistic approach to ensure the safety to riders and drivers,” he said. “A background check is just a snapshot and won’t tell use what someone will do in the future. We have dozens on our safety team who work on ways to ensure riders are empowered.”
By Amy Denney

Managing Editor, Austin metro

Amy has worked for Community Impact Newspaper since September 2010, serving as reporter and senior editor for the Northwest Austin edition as well as covering transportation in the Austin metro. She is now managing editor for the 10 publications in the Central Texas area from Georgetown to New Braunfels. She enjoys spending time with her husband, son and two cats.