Consideration of a rideshare pilot program sparked debate May 15 about what needs to be done to improve Austin's overall transportation system.
City Council voted unanimously to form a stakeholder group that will make recommendations on how to best launch a pilot program for allowing transportation network companies, or TNCs, smartphone applications that connect passengers to drivers who use their personal vehicles. For-profit ridesharing is currently illegal in Austin.
Multiple taxi drivers spoke out against the proposed service, arguing ridesharing would not only take away business but is also unsafe because the rideshare industry is not required to abide by the same licensing agreements as drivers from Austin's three franchised cab companies.
Ridesharing proponents, on the other hand, stressed the need to legalize TNCs, which are allowed to operate in multiple other cities nationwide. The resolution approved by council asks stakeholders to consider solutions to problems that occurred in other cities where ridesharing programs such as Uber and Lyft are legal, such as whether passengers are insured when using a ridesharing service, how all drivers could be properly screened and how accessibility limitations would be addressed.
"As I look at this option, one of the concerns I have is safety," Councilwoman Kathie Tovo said. "Safety has to be our paramount concern, and I really want to have some stakeholders in this process who can weigh in on that."
A separate resolution also created a stakeholder group to study short- and long-term improvements that could be made to Austin's taxi service, especially during peak periods. Mayor Lee Leffingwell said he supported a fair evaluation of each transportation service but voted against the second stakeholder group because he said it created duplicate efforts for the city.