Council one step closer to deciding on ride-hailing petition

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Photo Credit: Mike McGraw | Daily Texan Staff

City Council members heard the first set of public testimony Thursday both in favor of and against putting recently approved ride-hailing regulations, including fingerprint background checks, on the ballot for voters to decide.

The council has until next Thursday’s meeting to vote on its next move after city clerk Jeanette Goodall verified enough signatures on a ride-hailing petition earlier this week. 

If the council decides against putting the issue up to the voters, its only other option is to approve the ordinance outlined in the petition, which would nullify all December regulations and solidify those passed under Mayor Lee Leffingwell’s council in 2014. 

“Austin has spoken,” said Jennifer McDermott, a Lyft driver who testified at the hearing. “We are asking you to adopt this petition so we can move on to the countless other needs and issues we need as a city.”

David King, who testified in favor of putting the petition ordinance on the ballot, said more corporations would begin targeting the council with petitions and referendums if they back down against the ride-hailing companies now.

“When corporations write our laws, it doesn’t turn out well for regular citizens,” King said. “I trust the voters will vote against the [ride-hailing] ‘bullying’ ordinance and send the strong message that corporations will not be allowed to dictate Austin’s laws and policies.” 

Ridesharing Works for Austin, the coalition of seven Austin nonprofits backed by Uber and Lyft, organized the petition drive after the council’s December vote, arguing that the regulations are too strenuous on its drivers. 

Lyft driver Tatiana Beaklini spoke in favor of adopting the petition ordinance, arguing that calling for an election on the regulations would be a waste of taxpayer money.

“I feel like if they go to a vote, we will win,” Beaklini said. “But I don’t think it’s necessary for us to vote on it.”

Mayor Steve Adler said the council will vote next week on separate ordinances he’s proposed, which are not yet specified, would get rid of mandatory fingerprint background checks, but not the other regulations passed in December. 

“The council has been made clear that there’s not going to be a mandatory fingerprinting process in the city,” Adler said.

Adler, who said he is inclined to put the issue up to the voters, said, if adopted, the petition ordinance would disallow the council from revisiting the issue for two years.

In addition to Adler, council member Kathie Tovo, whose district encompasses UT and West Campus, has said she is inclined to support putting the issue on the ballot in previous interviews with The Daily Texan.