City of Austin reeled into DOJ investigation of Uber

David Butts is an Austin political consultant.  Last year, with the group "Our city, our safety, our choice," he helped lead the charge against the "petition ordinance" that would have kept Uber and Lyft in town.  No fingerprinting required. 

Butts is now fighting at the Capitol against a proposed statewide framework for ridesharing companies.  Also, no fingerprinting required. 

State Rep. Chris Paddie from Marshall authored House Bill 100.  He spoke with FOX 7 in March.

"I think it's really important for people to understand that right now in the United States, 37 states and Washington DC have statewide models.  None of them contain fingerprinting in them," Paddie said

"The legislature is basically going to be responsible for the fact that some people are going to be harmed in this process because there is really no independent oversight of these companies," Butts said.

Earlier this year, the New York Times exposed the existence of an Uber software program nicknamed "greyball." Sources at Uber told the Times one of the "greyball" techniques was looking at a potential rider's credit card information to see if it was connected to something like a police credit union.

If identified as a potential code-enforcer posing as a rider, Uber would allegedly initiate a phony version of its app, making it look like the rider was successfully hailing a car -- only to have it cancelled.

After the Times article was published, cities like Portland started investigating and Uber said they would stop using the software.

In 2014 Uber was operating illegally here in Austin.  APD conducted undercover stings and impounded vehicles.

The question is: was Uber using greyball here during that time?

"We know that there was a rather contentious relationship between the City of Austin and Uber in particular so the likelihood that they would do that is very probable," Butts said.

Now there are reports that the Department of Justice is probing these allegations.

According to a City of Austin spokesperson, the DOJ has already contacted the transportation department and the aviation department, indicating subpoenas for information on Uber's operations in Austin were on the way.

"If it proves to be true, and you know it's being investigated by the Department of Justice, it would just be a continuation of a pattern of abuse," Butts said.

Butts says if the legislature okays the statewide framework, Uber will return and the fight will continue.

"Yeah they're going to come and we're going to fight them.  We're going to basically call on people who care to boycott Uber.  To not ride with Uber.  Ride with one of the other companies.  Don't do business with a company that's dishonest," Butts said.

By the way HB 100 made it out of the House and now it's waiting to be heard in the Senate.

We did contact the U.S. Attorney's Office in California.  They say they can't confirm the existence or non-existence of a probe of Uber.

We also contacted Uber and they haven't responded as of news time Tuesday afternoon.