Uber says it will return to Austin if ride-hailing bill passes

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Exactly a year after Uber and Lyft left Austin, Uber said it will return if the state passes a bill turning local regulation of ride-hailing services over to the state.

“If the statewide ride-sharing legislation passes, Uber would come back to Austin under those new regulations,” said Travis Considine, communications manager for Uber Texas. “It would expand everywhere in Texas, actually.”

That legislation, House Bill 100, would overturn an ordinance passed by Austin City Council in December 2015, which requires ride-hailing drivers to submit fingerprints to ensure safety among riders. Last month the Texas House passed HB 100 with a 110–37 vote. 

Lyft could not be reached for comment about the bill. 

Uber and Lyft felt the fingerprint requirement was strict and unnecessary and in 2016 brought a proposal to the city to self-regulate their drivers. 

Last May, Austin voters opposed this proposition, Proposition 1, by 56 percent, so Uber and Lyft followed through with their promise to leave. Considine said Uber does not require fingerprints because the company takes proper precautions and has plans if there is an incident with a driver.

“There is no silver bullet to background checks,” Considine said. “We have a background check process that is incredibly thorough.”

Considine said Uber does not plan on changing its rates, or how it will regulate its drivers if it returns to Austin without the local regulations.

Computer science freshman Akash Dharamshi said the city’s mandated fingerprint background checks make him feel safer.

“If someone is going to be driving me around and I’m going to be in a car with a stranger basically, I would want the most precaution possible,” Dharamshi said.

Alternative and local ride-hailing companies such as RideAustin, Fare and Fasten flooded the city to fill the void after Uber and Lyft left. Vlad Christoff, Fasten’s co-founder and COO, said the Boston-based company is not worried about losing customers to Uber and Lyft should they return. 

“They decided on May 9 to walk away from the city and try to hold it hostage … by leaving a thousand drivers or so without a job,” Christoff said. “I think the city of Austin has embraced the current ride-sharing providers, so when (Uber and Lyft) do come back, I don’t think they’ll be greeted with open arms.”

Hannah Rumbarger, marketing and German sophomore, said following Uber and Lyft’s departure, she has not used other companies because they are not as well known.

“I just always had the impression that Fare and Ride Austin were tackier versions — that as soon as Uber and Lyft left, they just came in so they can make profit off of it,” Rumbarger said.

The Daily Texan also reported in March that Austin Police Department does not see any correlation between Uber and Lyft’s departure and DWI rates, which have been consistent in the past year.

As HB 100 moves along, so has discussion over local versus state control and its consequences. Austin Mayor Steve Adler said during the bill’s testimony, he will continue to fight to keep local control.

“The ability to have that measure of local guidance is important,” Adler said.