Wondering what all the debate over ridesharing in Austin is about? The City Council recently voted 9-2 to dramatically increase regulations on ridesharing companies, despite the fact that Austin residents have been overwhelmingly supportive of the services these companies provide. This Thursday, the debate continues, now with 6 additional ordinances to consider.
I voted against the regulations that were adopted on December 17th. And just 3 weeks later, I witnessed the delivery of a petition with 65,103 signatures to City Hall, the result of a citywide outcry against these restrictions.
What is the Citizen's Petition About?
To put it in perspective, this petition gathered more signatures than the votes received by any mayor ever elected in Austin's history, and more than three times what was required to get the issue on the ballot.
The petition aims to restore the rules that ridesharing companies had been operating under since they launched in Austin. This innovative model has been working well for the past year and a half and keeps ridesharing affordable, safe, efficient, and user-friendly.
If the Council does not adopt the regulations outlined in the petition exactly as written within 10 days of validation, they must call an election on May 7th to let the people decide. I hope the Council will listen to this overwhelming show of support (and save the time and expense of holding an election) by adopting the petition regulations immediately and continue to let ridesharing work for Austin.
Each of these regulations, in their own way, stand in the way of ridesharing, an innovative and effective free-market solution to our obvious safety and congestion challenges.
5 Things You Should Know
I wanted to share with you why I continue to support a reasonable regulatory environment for ridesharing and why I think this is such a critical issue for our city. Here are 5 things you should know about the debate:
1. Ridesharing has saved lives. Did you know that the Austin Police Department data shows that there has been a 26% drop in drunk driving since ridesharing began operating in Austin? This affordable solution for getting a ride home helps keep our roads safe for everyone. Additionally, Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo has stated that not being able to swiftly find a ride home at the end of the night puts people at a high risk of being assaulted. Having ample transportation available is critical to avoiding dangerous situations.
2. Ridesharing is safe. While mandatory fingerprinting of drivers has been presented as a public safety issue, statistics show that traditional fingerprinting alone does not actually deter crime. When you compare the number of drivers to the number of alleged assaults, you are 6 times more likely to be assaulted in a cab with a driver who has been fingerprinted than in a TNC in Austin. Ridesharing companies use modern technology to not only thoroughly check a driver's background, but also to prevent future bad behavior with safety measures like the ability to send your GPS coordinates to a friend, providing a photo and contact info for the driver, and real-time customer ratings. If customers want to choose these enhanced safety protocols instead of traditional transportation choices, the City should not stand in their way.
3. Ridesharing drivers have extensive background checks. Uber and Lyft do an extensive, multipoint background check on all drivers. Using data including an applicant's name, social security number, driver’s licence number, birth date, past and current addresses, etc., ridesharing companies carefully screen each applicant before hiring.
4. Simply put, this is unnecessary government overreach. The bottom line is that ridesharing is working for Austin. Why are we wasting time on "fixing" something that is not broken, and in fact will hurt the many Austinites who depend on these services? These regulations were arguably brought forward by competing business interests who are looking for a way to stifle other business models. Even if you don't ever use TNCs, this is the perfect example of government overregulation ruining a good thing, and we shouldn't tolerate it in this or any other industry.
5. The additional regulations do not "level the playing field." There are still countless differences in the way taxi and transportation networking companies are regulated. Just a few examples: TNCs do not have specified “taxi zones” for pickups, while taxis have their rates set by council and are limited by the number of permits they are granted. It's impossible to regulate two different industries in exactly the same way, but we should create a fair and limited regulatory environment that allow both to thrive and adapt to consumer demand, not to over-regulate to make business as difficult as possible for everyone.
Thursday, the Council will vote on ordinances that establish “incentives” for ridesharing drivers to get fingerprinted, or rather vast penalties for those who do not comply. For example, non-fingerprinted drivers would be prohibited from picking up passengers in any area deemed an “entertainment district" (like downtown), and other busy events like SXSW and ACL. These are the very locations where it is critical for us to have many convenient and reliable transportation options, and where every driver should be able to operate. An optional regulation becomes mandatory if the associated penalties leave you with no choice but to comply.
The free market is a powerful force that is sending a clear message that TNCs are working for our community. I hope you will stand with the citizens of Austin as we oppose this unnecessary government control. Thanks for your time and attention to this important issue.