Don't delete your Uber app yet!
It has been a few weeks now since the City Council voted 9-2 to implement fingerprinting requirements on Uber & Lyft (TNCs) drivers on an initiative driven by Councilwoman Ann Kitchen. It has also been about that long since Uber and Lyft declared their intent to leave Austin should fingerprinting be made mandatory.
Since that time a ton has happened and I've been talking a lot with those close to both the TNCs and the Council. I thought it might be worthwhile to type up a quick summary, as I see things standing.
Most of the debate online has centered around what the motives are on both sides. Is fingerprinting really safer? (the business community says there's no data; the public safety community says we've had 6 unreported sexual assualt attacks in the last six months by TNC drivers). Is fingerprinting really that big of a hassle? (Uber & Lyft say yes, but everyone else says no -- and besides, it's mandatory in Houston and optional in San Antonio). At this point these debates are fruitless as the vote has happened and council has made their intentions clear.
The fact of the matter is: council will not vote YES on anything that potential reduces safety of TNC riders (no fingerprinting), and Uber/Lyft will not stand for mandatory fingerprinting. Where does that leave us?
There are 2 potential paths being pursued:
Path 1: The council is set to vote again on January 28th and Mayor Adler has until then to find a compromise that allows for meaningful fingerprinting, allaying fears by public safety groups, while not making that fingerprinting mandatory, meeting the demands by Uber & Lyft. And he's working hard. I've sat in multiple meetings with the Mayor, Council and public safety groups and I believe such a compromise is not only possible, it's likely, so long as Uber & Lyft stay at the table as they've done in other cities. San Antonio has a similar deal in place: Drivers can get fingerprinted if they want, and Uber/Lyft make that selection visible to riders who can select whether or not they want a fingerprinted driver. Easy enough, right?
Path 2: Currently, Uber & Lyft are pushing a petition to roll back the City ordinances to void any new regulations being put in place by City Council. This petition requires 20,000 signatures and the goal is 30,000. Uber and Lyft are contacting companies to swing by and collect signatures, setting up petition centers at local businesses like Austin Java, and instructing their drivers to request signatures of riders as they hop in the car. If the petition gathers the needed signatures, then the request will hit the ballot (likely in November) for the Austin voters. Many see this timing as problematic given the numerous other initiatives that citizens will need to vote on in November and the fear is that the Uber/Lyft vote may detract from the attention these other initiatives need.
My take: We need Uber and Lyft in Austin. We are watching one of the largest innovative disruptions of our time and here in Austin we should be embracing it and leading the charge. I'm wary of overregulating these new businesses and making it harder for them to operate in our town. Where we stand today, I think the Mayor's Path 1 is our best path forward and one that I hope all parties can agree to. Path 2 may sound simple but it has a strong chance of failure and an even stronger chance of dragging this out far longer than it needs to go on.
I'm happy to answer more questions about anything I've written or undiscussed details.