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Rideshare Pilot Coming To An End; City Seeks Public Input On Program's Future

The controversy over fingerprinting requirements for ride-sharing drivers continues to simmer, and it may boil over again in San Antonio this summer.  Uber and Lyft say they left Austin because voters last Saturday opted not to relax fingerprinting and other regulations for drivers.  San Antonio made fingerprinting an option under a pilot program now in effect.  This summer that issue will be up for debate again in the Alamo City.

Fifty- six percent of Austin voters said no to a complicated proposition that would have removed fingerprinting as a requirement for drivers with ride-sharing programs like Uber and Lyft. Both companies stopped operations in the City of Austin by 8:00 a.m. Monday.

“Disappointment does not begin to describe how we feel about shutting down operations in Austin. For the past two years, drivers and riders made ridesharing work in this great city. We’re incredibly grateful. From rallies to phone banking to knocking on doors, they spread the word. Their support was humbling and inspiring. We hope the City Council will reconsider their ordinance so we can work together to make the streets of Austin a safer place for everyone.” ​ - Chris Nakutis, General Manager of Uber Austin.

Complying with city background checks and FBI fingerprinting is a familiar struggle for Uber and Lyft. The companies left the Alamo City in April of 2015 when the City Council passed mandatory fingerprinting. 

TechBloc, a group of San Antonio technology companies, organized to keep Uber and Lyft in the city.  David Heard is a co-chair of the group.

“It’s very distinguished from what we did here to what they did in Austin. TechBloch was a bunch of techies, a grass roots organization funded by no one really, just a lot of volunteer support and a rally around our desire that ride share come back to San Antonio. It’s very much different from what approach they took in Austin where Uber financed an $8 million campaign.”

San Antonio's council members weathered a lot of criticism when the fingerprinting requirements passed. Four months later they relaxed the requirement in favor of a pilot program that made fingerprinting optional.  The companies returned.  Now, their cell phone apps can tell consumers if drivers have gone through the screening process. Mayor Taylor calls the pilot program a success.

“I think that we’re at the forefront with this consumer choice model that we have that allows consumers to make the decisions and gives the option that if they want to drive with someone who has had the fingerprint background check, they can do so. I think that was a great compromise that we struck.”

See the city's public service announcement here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JRR6e_hcQew&feature=youtu.be

District 1 Councilman Robert Trevino helped draft San Antonio’s pilot program and believes consumers who support ride-sharing services are looking for options.

“Not everybody wants them. Not everybody needs them but we should provide options for as many folks a possible. A city needs to find ways to innovate.”

But not all council members feel that way. San Antonio District 10 Councilman Mike Gallagher says the pilot program has been effective so far but he voted against it. He’s concerned about public safety.

“I think what we witnessed there in Austin is something that we’re going to see around the country. I look for the public safety as the main issue driving the way votes are going, that we’re going to see that all over the place.”

At least one state lawmaker doesn’t like the idea of cities across Texas having different rules for ride-sharing companies. State Senator Charles Schwertner of Georgetown says he’s crafting a law to ensure all Texas cities have the same requirements.  Mayor Taylor doesn’t agree.

 

 “I believe the people of San Antonio here should be able to control their own destiny through the body of elected leaders that they’ve put in place. We’ve come up with a solution that works for San Antonio. And we’d like to be able to continue doing what works for San Antonio.”

San Antonio council members will again have to decide this issue before the Fall when Uber and Lyft’s  9-month pilot program expires. Over the summer the city will hold what it calls ride-share roundtables where the public will have a chance to weigh in.

The city  has scheduled two roundtables where the public can weigh in on what comes next for ride sharing. You can also weigh in by filling out the city's survey.

  • 5:30-7 p.m., Wednesday, May 18, 2016, at St. Margaret Mary’s Church Activity Center, 1314 Fair Avenue, San Antonio, TX 78223
  • 5:30-7 p.m., Wednesday, June 1, 2016, at the TriPoint YMCA, Grantham Hall, 3233 N. St. Mary’s St., San Antonio, TX 78212