Austin City Council looks to support TNCs, taxi companies

Austin City Council voted on May 19 to support new transportation network companies, or TNCs, aiming to fill the void left by Uber and Lyft, which suspended service in Austin following the May 7 defeat of Proposition 1.

Austin City Council voted on May 19 to support new transportation network companies, or TNCs, aiming to fill the void left by Uber and Lyft, which suspended service in Austin following the May 7 defeat of Proposition 1.

In the midst of what some City Council members have described as "awkward" and a "gap period" following ride-hailing companies Uber and Lyft's suspension of services in Austin, the city is examining ways to bolster its existing on-demand transportation network.

Council passed a resolution May 19 that aims to connect ridesharing and taxi companies operating in Austin to city resources, such as micro-loans and technical assistance, that already exist for small businesses.

During discussion of the resolution May 17 and May 19, District 8 Council Member Ellen Troxclair pushed for the city to define its stance on and enforcement of mandatory fingerprint-based background checks and other regulations for ride-hailing companies passed in December.

“I’m concerned we don’t have a coherent policy going forward about the standards we’re [setting] for new [transportation network companies] operating in our city,” she said. “I’m concerned this ordinance is putting into place the possibility of offering city incentives to companies operating no differently than Uber and Lyft did.”

The December ordinance was "incomplete," according to Mayor Steve Adler, and did not include enforcement mechanisms or specific penalties for ride-hailing companies that did not comply with fingerprint-based background checks. District 7 Council Member Leslie Pool said the council had to pause efforts to amend and update the December ordinance because of a citizens' petition that sought to reverse the December regulations and the ensuing citywide election.

As a result, the city does not have a mechanism to ensure compliance with each section of the December ordinance, and ride-hailing companies that continued to operate in the city following the May 7 election may not be fingerprinting their drivers, Troxclair said.

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.

Troxclair introduced a measure May 19 that proposed ride-hailing companies not fully compliant with all sections of the December ordinance be ineligible to receive or benefit from city resources, but Adler ruled the amendment "not germane" to the agenda item, which removed it from consideration.

Adler said the council needs to have additional discussions to clarify when and how to enforce measures outlined in the December ordinance. Adler also said he has faith in the ride-hailing companies that continue to operate in Austin.

“It is no surprise to anyone when you have two large companies that are filling a segment of mobility that when they leave, a new company is not going to be able to step up Day 1 and replace them,” Adler said. “I believe Get Me as well as other TNCs are trying to ramp up.”