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Austin council punts on ridesharing restrictions

By   /   January 28, 2016  /   News  /   No Comments

Austin City Council members on both sides of the issue expressed frustration with a one-month delay in the fingerprinting guidelines for ridesharing drivers that were approved in December.

Thursday’s 7-1 vote, with three abstentions, did nothing to stop a petition effort that will require the council to decide either to rescind its fingerprinting requirement or set a date for citizens to vote on the issue.

While it was clear the majority vote was a courtesy to Mayor Steve Adler, council members appeared impatient with what amounts to a delay in a decision upon which none have changed their minds.

Austin business and advocacy groups want the City Council to change its mind about ridesharing regulations. Or put it to a citywide vote.

Austin business and advocacy groups want the City Council to change its mind about ridesharing regulations. Or put it to a citywide vote.

Ann Kitchen, the council’s Mobility Committee chairwoman who drafted the fingerprinting ordinance, said she did not want her vote on the delay to be mistaken for any change in her position.

“I absolutely stand behind the December ordinance,” Kitchen said.

Ellen Troxclair and Don Zimmerman, the council members in the 9-2 minority of that December vote, abstained from the vote, seeing no value in any extension.

“I’m not excited about doing anything on these regulations until I see what the voters have to say,” Zimmerman said.

Adler said he asked for the delay as he continued to find some middle ground on fingerprinting, something that ridesharing companies such as Uber and Lyft have said will force them to leave the Austin market.

It was Adler who succeeded in setting a Feb. 1 date for the beginning of fingerprinting, accompanied by a May 1 deadline to have 25 percent of drivers fingerprinted, 50 percent by Aug. 1, and 99 percent by Feb. 1, 2017.

Those compliance dates are likely meaningless with the council under the gun to take a stand on the ordinance or take its cue from citizens.

It took just three weeks for Ridesharing Works to gather more than 65,000 signatures for a petition demanding the council roll back the fingerprinting requirement or ask citizens to vote on the question.

The 23,000 signatures turned in to the city clerk have not been validated, but are expected to be. While the petition organizers had hoped for a May 7 citywide election date, it wasn’t clear Thursday if Adler’s postponement would push back an election.

The clerk has estimated a citywide vote will cost city taxpayers $800,000.

An election seems inevitable given the entrenchment of everyone on the dais except for Adler. The adamance of the majority has surprised an increasing number of Austinites in light of the support for ridesharing companies shown by the petition response.

“By enacting the fingerprint ordinance, the city council proved itself to be remarkably tone-deaf to the actual needs of its citizens,” Austin writer Neal Pollack said this week. “They still seem stunned by the outcry.”

Even the Austin American-Statesman editorial board, typically in lockstep with the regulatory crowd, on Wednesday called for a surrender.

None of which has moved council member Delia Garza to reconsider her vote.

“I am deeply disappointed in the perversion of the petition process essentially led by a billion dollar company fighting fair safety regulations by disseminating false information to get signatures,” Garza wrote on her Facebook page this week.

Garza has made no secret of her annoyance at what she characterizes as bullying by a powerful and rapacious corporation, a congealed image on the left reported on by Brian Doherty for free market champion Reason.

Reason has been reporting for years now on the near-constant assault on Uber’s (and its competitors’) very ability to exist at the hand of mostly local, and sometimes state, governments and politically well-connected taxi cartels,” Doherty wrote. “We certainly haven’t been alone; The New York Times itself as well as all sorts of legacy media covering cities had done the same, and continue to do the same on a near weekly or daily basis.”

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Mark Lisheron is the Austin-based reporter for Watchdog.org. He first served as a national Watchdog reporter before joining Texas Watchdog. He spent almost 30 years in newspapers, 14 of those years for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and a decade with the Austin American-Statesman. Mark can be reached on Twitter at @marktxwatchdog or by email at [email protected]