Uber and Lyft facing more regulation from City of Austin

It was a sea of "Uber" blue and "Lyft" pink at Wednesday's Mobility Committee meeting at City Hall.

Uber driver Matthias Gauthreaux was one of the many in attendance opposing the changes.

"It's the wave of the future.  If you come in with too much regulation, they're not gonna be able to saturate the scene with a lot of drivers," Gauthreaux said.

The committee took up two of the items on committee chair Ann Kitchen's list.
The first is requiring companies like Uber and Lyft to pay fees to the city.

"The choice is between the same fee that a Taxi cab company pays which is basically a per driver fee or they can choose to pay a percentage of their gross revenue.  And what we are going to recommend to council is one-percent," Kitchen said.  

Marco Mccottry, the GM of Uber's Austin market, says the changes are not good.

"We're offering a comprehensive background check program, we're providing $1 million in coverage.  So we're taking on a lot of these administrative costs as a company.  So, again, we're open to having this discussion but we need to make sure that the fees make sense," Mccottry said.

Ed Kargbo, the President of Yellow Cab Austin, says "leveling the playing field" is not the right way to describe this.

"You heard the discussion to reduce the potential two-percent to one-percent....so now they're paying...1/20th of what we pay with their announced numbers of 10 times more drivers, so that's not leveling the playfield," Kargbo said.

The second change the committee approved is requiring fingerprint background checks.

"We are recommending fingerprinting, but we are recommending that it be done in a way that's quick and easy for the driver," Kitchen said.

Committee member Don Zimmerman found that idea disappointing.

"They made a powerful argument, they have a very good background security check in place already.  And I heard nothing from any constituents demanding that we do fingerprint checks for TNC drivers," Zimmerman said.

Kargbo says his cab drivers do that -- and more.

"We have cameras in every single one of our cars for the safety of the riding public.  We do fingerprint background the drivers and more than that we actually go above and beyond the requirements of the city...we inspect the vehicles on a monthly basis," Kargbo said.

Mccottry says they'll have to see the final proposal first but he reminds the city, Uber had to pull out of San Antonio for similar requirements.

"We've seen in other cities where these similar types of frameworks have been put forward.  We've been forced to no longer operate," Mccottry said.

Council member Kitchen kept reminding everyone today's meeting was just step one in a four-part process involving sending these recommendations to the full council and then getting the legal department to draft the changes.
She expects the final ordinance will be put before council sometime in November.