Special election to determine future of ridesharing services

*Update* A special election will be held in May to determine the future of ridesharing services in the City of Austin. The decision to move forward with a special election happened late in the evening on February 11.

The Austin City Council debated the ridesharing issue for hours. Council chambers was packed with people with many supporting ridesharing services. 

Council members had two options on the agenda. One would give incentives to ridesharing drivers who were fingerprinted while the other was an ordinance drafted by the organization Ridesharing Works for Austin who wanted to repeal City Council's new rules.

65,000 people signed a petition supporting the ordinance.

In end both ideas were rejected and now the future of ridesharing will be voted on in a special election this May. The election could cost up to $800,000.

Ridesharing Works for Austin, Lyft and Uber all released statements after the decision.

RIDESHARING WORKS FOR AUSTIN

"The City Council's action tonight sets the stage for a May election, and we feel confident the community will vote to reinstate the Leffingwell rules and keep ridesharing in Austin.  An unprecedented 65,000 people have already supported this ballot initiative, so we're looking forward to a successful campaign."

LYFT

"Over 65,000 Austinites spoke up in support of ridesharing and have earned the right to a May 7 election. We look forward to continued collaboration with the diverse array of groups dedicated to keeping ridesharing as a safe and affordable option in Austin."

UBER

"Tens of thousands of people have made it clear they want to keep ridesharing in Austin. Tonight, the Council missed an opportunity to listen to those voices and prevent a costly election. We are inspired by the Austinites who have offered their continuous support, and we are optimistic that they will speak out once more with their votes on May 7."

Council members are scheduled to meet next week to work out how to word the issue for the May 7 ballot.

This is an update to previous stories. The original versions are as follows:

City Council members haven't even gotten to the discussion of ridesharing yet. They have been discussing and voting on other items on the agenda. 

Mayor Adler's Communications Director Jason Stanford says Council should be discussing three different options for ridesharing tonight, 

Option one would be to adopt the Ridesharing Works Ordinance but with something called a memorandum of understanding with Uber and Lyft that would allow for the Mayor's optional fingerprint background check incentive program called "Thumbs Up Austin."

Choice number two would put it in the hands of voters in May. In that case council would need to discuss what happens if voters say 'no' to the Ride Sharing Works Ordinance. Does the city want to keep the ordinance they passed in December or pass another ordinance that allows for the Thumbs Up program.

The last option would be to simply adopt the Ridesharing Works Ordinance with no attached memorandum of understanding.  It's unclear how council will feel about the MOU anyway.


Austin City Council has some very tough decisions to make Thursday on the ridesharing battle and it's not clear which way council is going to go.

The choice was originally a binary one.  City council has to either adopt a ridesharing ordinance brought to them through a successful citizens petition or let the voters decide if that's what they want in a May 7th election.

The time has come for council to make that choice. But now it's gotten a little bit more complicated.

"If people who are watching this are confused, I feel their pain in a visceral way," said Mayor Adler's communications director Jason Standord. 

Stanford says council has a few options now. 

Choice #1: adopt the "Ridesharing Works" ordinance but with something called a Memorandum of Understanding with Uber and Lyft that would allow for the mayor's optional fingerprint background check incentive program called "Thumbs Up Austin."

"That would achieve the Mayor's goal of keeping Uber and Lyft in town because they keep drunk drivers off the road but also providing a safety mechanism to give people a real choice for rides that they feel are safer," Stanford said.

Choice #2: Let the voters decide in May. In that case, council would need to discuss what happens if voters say 'no' to the Ridesharing Works ordinance. Does the city want to keep the ordinance they passed in December or pass another ordinance that allows for the Thumbs Up Program?

And choice #3: Simply adopt the Ridesharing Works ordinance with no attached Memorandum of Understanding. It's unclear how council will feel about the MOU anyway.

"There are some people on the council who think we can adopt the petition ordinance, have no May election but go ahead and do Thumbs Up. This could invite lawsuits," Stanford said.

Council member Don Zimmerman who supports the Ridesharing Works ordinance says if things get really muddy in the meeting he may have to abstain or vote to put it on the may ballot.

"Because if I vote in favor I'm going to be facing some kind of MOU that I don't think the council understands.  I don't think anybody completely understands the MOU's," Stanford said.

Austin's newest ridesharing company called "Get Me" set up outside of City Hall Thursday.

Chief Experience Officer Jonathan Laramy says whatever happens they're not leaving town.  They believe in fingerprinting. And plan on using Mayor Adler's Thumbs Up logo if the idea sticks.

"On the picture of the driver, going forward we will have a fingerprint on there.  If another requirement that looks a little bit different, we will do that with our app...its just...absolutely," Laramy said.

Whether Uber and Lyft fully support the Mayor's MOU idea remains to be seen. Uber has devised their own version of an MOU.

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