Transportation network companies, or TNCs, have been the subject of proposed new regulations. This September file photo shows supporters from Uber and Lyft at a September council committee meeting. Transportation network companies, or TNCs, have been the subject of proposed new regulations. This September file photo shows supporters from Uber and Lyft at a September council committee meeting.[/caption]

A City Council committee has begun a lengthy effort to update an ordinance regulating transportation network companies, or TNCs, such as Uber and Lyft.

The Mobility Council Committee discussed two policy changes to the ordinance during its Oct. 7 meeting: public safety concerns, such as adding fingerprinting to driver background checks, and implementing a fee to cover the city’s costs to operate the TNC program. District 5 Council Member Ann Kitchen, who chairs the mobility committee, said the original ordinance council approved in October 2014 required updating so the city could add the fee.

Council Member Don Zimmerman voted against all of the proposed policy changes the committee discussed, saying they would impede residents’ transportation choices and that companies could choose to pass any new fees to riders, making TNCs more expensive.

“Right now people have a choice to take a TNC, or they can call up a taxi,” he said. “I have to object to all of these points on the basis that it removes the choice for constituents and consumers about what they would like to do. There’s an argument for leveling playing field, but that takes away the element of choice.”

Representatives from Uber and Lyft each said the companies have no concern with paying a fee. However, both object to the fingerprint requirement, saying their companies already have stringent national background checks.

Uber representative Adam Blinick said fingerprinting could be discriminatory because if a person was arrested, the results do not show whether charges were filed or dropped. He also said some crimes, such as drunk driving or domestic abuse, the person may not have been fingerprinted.

Blinick said Uber also has technology to provide added security to riders and drivers, including GPS tracking that allows riders to share their routes in real-time with someone else. He said taxis and limos do not operate using this same kind of platform.

“Every time you request a ride, you see your driver’s face, name, license plate and make and model [of the vehicle],” he said. “You know who is coming to pick you up, and you can verify that before you get into a vehicle.”

Lyft representative April Mims said Lyft does not operate in any city where fingerprinting is required, including in Houston. The exception is in New York City, where drivers do not use personal vehicles but are provided commercial transportation, she said.

Most Lyft drivers work about 15 hours per week, Mims said, adding the proposed policy changes could prevent some from being able to drive or wanting to go through the background approval process.

“We are very concerned about the impact it could have on certain communities,” she said. “About 20 percent of our drivers are coming from East Austin and are [driving for Lyft] to supplement their income. If they are forced to go through a process that is giving a false positive because there is no final disposition on the case, only an arrest, then that’s unfair to those communities.”

She said about one-third of Texas Department of Public Safety records do not show a disposition or final outcome of a case.

Council Member Sheri Gallo said she appreciates the models Uber and Lyft have set up to ensure the quality of background checks.

“Our dilemma is that there may be other companies that come forward that don’t have that business model,” she said. “So our ability to protect our citizens and our public is to have something that at least is an initial step toward that. It may not be the answer to everything, but when I look at multiple other industries that require [fingerprinting] … I’m struggling to understand why your industry should be the exception.”

Kitchen said the committee will discuss other proposed amendments, including data reporting, at its Nov. 4 meeting. In November, the full City Council would consider the proposed amendments. If the new measures are approved, staff would draft language amending the ordinance, and the full City Council would vote on the changes one last time.