Senate committee takes on ridesharing regulations

Former Texas Governor Rick Perry once said Austin is like the "blueberry in the tomato soup."
Politically-speaking of course.

"We have a different culture and values.  The other cities are great, I love Houston and Dallas and San Antonio but we're different," said Austin Mayor Steve Adler at the Capitol on Tuesday morning.

And it may be that difference that's led to the filing of a number of bills that seem to make an example out of Austin.

During a Tuesday morning hearing, the Senate Committee on Business and Commerce took on issues like the bag ban, short term rental properties and transportation network company regulation.  A group of bills have been filed that would create a statewide framework for companies like Uber and Lyft.

Unlike the City's regulations, Uber can live with these rules.

"Under this statewide bill if it's passed and signed by the Governor we would be back in Austin as soon as possible.  We're looking forward to getting back and partnering with the City," said Uber's Trevor Theunissen.

Council Members Ann Kitchen and Ellen Troxclair have always been on opposite ends of the spectrum on ridesharing.  Troxclair felt the rules Uber and Lyft were operating under were fine like they were.  Kitchen led the charge on fingerprinting drivers.

The majority of council favored fingerprinting and Austin voters supported that as well in a special-called election last May.

"We have proven that we don't have to sacrifice public safety in order to have this service.  We've got seven companies operating, almost 8,000 drivers that are fingerprinted," Kitchen said.

"Local control is a valuable tool only to the extent that it protects individual liberty.  When it's not being used longer protect individual liberty than it's the responsibility and the role of the State to make sure that your right to work for the transportation provider that you choose and to ride in the transportation provider that you choose is up to you and not regulated by the local municipality," Troxclair said.

During the hearing, something Troxclair said really upset Kitchen.

"A lot of people lost their jobs overnight.  Some of them chose to go to different municipalities that still allowed for those economic opportunities for them but it's a substantial job loss for the city," Troxclair said during her testimony.

"She said that a bunch of drivers lost their jobs.  And that is simply not true...I mean we have 8,000 fingerprinted drivers right now.  The other thing she neglected to mention is that Uber and Lyft chose to leave.  They left their drivers high and dry and we immediately stepped in as a city and helped connect them to the new companies coming in," Kitchen said.

Sharon Moore is a SXSW volunteer.  In the absence of Uber and Lyft she uses some of the other companies or just takes CapMetro.

"It's still pretty easy.  I think it's a shame that Uber and Lyft aren't still here because people from out of town have to download new apps and a lot of those same drivers, whether people want to believe it or not are driving for those new companies," Moore said.  "Austin has to get over the fact that they're not a small town anymore."

You might have heard there was a hiccup over the weekend with one or two ridesharing services.  The non-profit Ride Austin says they were down for about 5 hours Saturday night but when they got back up and running gave another 4,000 rides.
The short term rental discussion is expected to happen Tuesday but no vote yet on any of this.  The committee is expected to discuss that during their next hearing.

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