Drivers from ride-hailing companies Uber and Lyft attended the Nov. 16 City Council Mobility Committee to hear discussion on proposed changes to the ordinance regulating ride-hailing companies.
A list of proposed changes to the city’s ordinance regulating ride-hailing or transportation network companies, such as Uber and Lyft, will likely make its way to the full City Council in December.
Proposed changes would attempt to require ride-hailing companies to follow the same rules as taxicab companies. For example, passengers would be prohibited from loading and unloading in travel lanes, and TNC drivers would be required to display emblems or stickers—known as trade dress—to indicate the vehicle is in operation with a specific ride-hailing business. Despite public comment not being allowed on the proposed changes (public testimony was heard Oct. 7), dozens of drivers wearing blue Uber and and pink Lyft T-shirts attended the Nov. 16 City Council Mobility Committee to hear the discussion.
The committee agreed, with District 6 Council Member Don Zimmerman dissenting, to send a list of proposed amendments from the city’s Austin Transportation Department to the full council for potential approval.
“With our experience over the last year, there’s some specific areas where we feel the current ordinance doesn’t speak to our needs in the long term,” ATD Assistant Director Gordon Derr said.
Council has already moved forward on some TNC ordinance changes. On Oct. 15, City Council initiated a code change that would require TNCs to either pay an annual fee equal to the permit fees paid by taxis and then multiplied by the number of drivers of the company, or to pay 1 percent of its annual local gross revenues. Council also approved a measure to bring forth a fingerprint background check requirement for drivers.
The committee mostly debated a proposed reporting requirement for TNCs to submit monthly data on metrics, such as trips serviced by ZIP codes, total vehicles in operation, driver hours logged and gross revenue. TNCs already submit some data quarterly, but Derr said the city needs more specific data to make the requirement comparable to taxicab reporting rules.
Zimmerman disputed requiring private companies to give the city information that could be deemed proprietary. He said it does not make sense to collect data on just TNCs because other private companies use the city’s streets to make deliveries.
Zimmerman gave an example of Austin Energy’s contract with a Texas biomass plant that exempts the public utility from releasing certain information out of competitive concerns.
“If a public utility is protected from releasing information, the public needs to know how can the city demand that the TNCs release private information?” he said.
Ride-hailing drivers in the audience cheered and applauded Zimmerman’s comments.
Uber representative Adam Blinick said the company has complied with the existing requirement to provide the city with quarterly reports on pickup and drop-off patterns, cost, length of trips and ADA accessibility updates. However, he said information Uber thought would be confidential was released by the city. The company’s concern is it does not know what ATD does with the data or why it needs it.
“This is not to tamper dialogue,” Blinick said. “We think there should be room for constructive conversation with cities in which we can determine what information they’re looking for and how we can best share it. We think it should be more based on a partnership and collaboration rather than a list of items we have to share."
Mobility Committee chairperson Ann Kitchen said the city would follow state laws regarding a company’s right to proprietary information.
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 11 publications in the Central Texas area from Georgetown to New Braunfels. She enjoys spending time with her husband, son and two cats.