Fight over ride-hailing regulations continues at City Hall

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Photo Credit: Gabriel Lopez | Daily Texan Staff

Many believed the dispute at City Hall over ride-hailing regulations was settled last month when City Council members voted to call for an election, offering Austinites the chance to settle the issue once and for all when they head to the polls May 7.

In light of a petition to remove Ann Kitchen, the original sponsor of the regulations, from the council and a Texas Supreme Court challenge, they couldn’t have been more wrong.

The curtains never seemed to close on the issue of recently passed regulations — primarily fingerprint-based background checks for drivers — that have stirred up controversy since the council first instituted increased regulatory pressures on the ride-hailing companies into City Code back in December.

Earlier this month, Uber and Lyft supporters dissatisfied with the ballot measure’s language filed a challenge asking the Texas Supreme Court to intervene and force the city to make alterations to
the language. 

“The Council falsely portrayed the Proposed Ordinance as something that only takes away and does not give,” said Austin resident Samantha Phelps, who originally filed the challenge to the Court in support of the ride-hailing companies. “That portrayal could not be further from the truth.”

In response to the challenge, the Court allowed city officials to retain the original ballot language.

“We have continually conceded — and sorry, I’m not going to use compromise — to this company over and over again and the history has been, they’re not moving,” said council member Delia Garza, who voted in favor of the increased December regulations earlier last month.

Despite the Court’s decision, the ride-hailing companies have continued to argue the ballot language is misleading and unfair to voters, who want what they are voting on in May clarified. After they found themselves on the losing side of the 9-2 vote on the ballot language, council members Don Zimmerman and Ellen Troxclair filed an amicus brief in support of the lawsuit against the city.

On May 7, the ballot language approved by the council will ask voters if the regulations from the council’s December vote should be repealed and replaced “with an ordinance that would repeal and prohibit required fingerprinting, repeal the requirement to identify the vehicle with a distinctive emblem,” among other regulations. 

The council vote last month was in response to a citizen petition that forced the council to choose one of two options: either send the issue to voters or solidify the regulations outlined in the petition’s ordinance.

Uber spokeswoman Jaime Moore said in a statement that the ride-hailing company believes the ballot language fails to mention “the common sense safety regulations” that would be restored if voters choose to uphold the petition ordinance. 

This choice would revert City Code back to the minimal regulatory pressures that existed under Mayor Lee Leffingwell.

“The City Council’s ballot language is confusing, inaccurate and only tells voters one side of the story,” Moore said. “Voters are asking for clarity, not confusion, so they can decide what types of transportation options they want in Austin.”