Bill that could change ridesharing regulations in Austin moves forward in Texas House

A bill that would remove city regulations for transportation network companies and give that authority to the state is one step closer to becoming law.

House Bill 100 will remove fingerprint background check requirements in the entire state, meaning companies Uber and Lyft would most likely return operations in the Capital City.

The Texas House of Representatives passed the second reading of HB 100 Wednesday afternoon, but not without opposition.

Representatives who opposed the bill said it disrespects people in cities like Austin, Houston and Corpus Christi who chose to allow city governments to regulate TNCs.

The bill would require transportation network companies to comply with state regulations and pay state fees, but they would no longer have to submit to city regulations, including fingerprint background checks.

“It would be the first time in the whole country that a state has overturned the local will of voters when it comes to public safety for transportation networks,” said State Rep. Gina Hinojosa, D-Austin.

Currently, the City of Austin is responsible for oversight of TNCs in city limits. Voters decided last May to allow the city to move forward with requirements, including fingerprint background checks, for all TNC drivers. Because of those rules, TNC companies Uber and Lyft stopped operations in the city and other companies like RideAustin, Fare and Fasten took over.

“The voters voted overwhelmingly that they wanted background checks, they wanted fingerprinting, they wanted to do it a certain way, they want to do it the way the City of Austin wants to do it and it was a 60-40 percent vote,” said State Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin.

State Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, who joint-authored the bill, said it's not about removing control from local municipalities. Her district, Houston, also has its own rules for TNCs, but she still supports HB 100.

In a statement Thompson said, "There are 34 cities in Harris County alone and many more in the adjacent counties. Trying to comply with potentially dozens of sets of regulations in an area like ours creates a nightmare for the people that work for these networks and the people that rely on them for transportation."

After a lengthy debate over safety standards and record keeping, the second reading of the bill passed the House 110-37, but the battle between state and local control wages on.

“This is a way for the State to go to bat for a particular company, in my point of view, and they're trying to override lots of local ordinances and we're helping one company out and I think that's wrong,” Rodriguez said. 

“This bill is not about a particular city or a particular company or anything that's happened in the past, or a vote or anything else. This is about 27 plus million people of Texas and improving and expanding transportation options and making sure that folks are able to get a safe ride home. The more options, the better, to accomplish that,” said the bill’s author State Rep. Chris Paddie, R-Marshall.

There will be a final vote on HB 100 Thursday before it moves on to the Senate.

Uber and Lyft have said in the past that they will return to Austin if fingerprint background checks are no longer required. RideAustin said either way they aren't going anywhere.

Andy Tryba, CEO of RideAustin, issued this statement regarding Wednesday’s vote:

“We started RideAustin to bring mobility back after Uber abruptly chose to leave Austinites out-of-work and stranded. While we respect the State Legislature’s ability to overrule Austin voters - we believe the local Austin community is the best to set local Austin rules.  In any scenario - we believe that RideAustin represents the local community values and will continue to be embraced by the local community.”

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