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City council sets showdown date for ridesharing restrictions

By   /   February 2, 2016  /   News  /   No Comments

The Austin City Council is expected to vote Feb. 11 to either hold fast to its requirement that ridesharing company drivers be fingerprinted or let Austin citizens decide May 7.

The dates for a vote and a possible ballot initiative were set Tuesday after City Clerk Jannette Goodall certified the necessary 20,000 signatures on a petition calling for the council to rescind its Dec. 18 vote requiring drivers for companies like Uber and Lyft to submit to mandatory municipal fingerprinting.

Representatives for those ridesharing companies have made it clear to Austin officials they will stop serving Austin — just as they have in cities such as San Antonio, Portland and Las Vegas — if the fingerprinting requirement is upheld.

Ridesharing companies have defended their internal security checks as more than sufficient to protect public safety. Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo and Travis County Sheriff Greg Hamilton have made public statements supporting those checks and urging the council not to drive off transportation options that have helped reduce DWI arrests and collisions.

But in spite of several attempts to broker a compromise by Mayor Steve Adler, a council majority has stood firm behind a fingerprinting ordinance drafted by the council’s Mobility Committee chairwoman, Ann Kitchen.

In three weeks volunteers gathered more than 65,000 signatures asking the City Council to rescind its new ridesharing ordinance or put it to a citizen vote.

In three weeks volunteers gathered more than 65,000 signatures asking the City Council to rescind its new ridesharing ordinance or put it to a citizen vote.

A coalition called Ridesharing Works For Austin that circulated a petition signed by more than 65,000 people once again Tuesday called on the council to return to a working ordinance  — without fingerprinting — that was passed under former Mayor Lee Leffingwell.

“Simply voting to reinstate the Leffingwell rules on Thursday would honor the will of over 65,000 Austinites who signed the ridesharing petition without incurring the cost of an election,” Caroline treasurer of the Ridesharing Works coalition, said. “This is the fastest, easiest and most affordable way forward, and will avoid the risk of a ridesharing shutdown in Austin.”

After last Thursday’s council meeting it was clear simply reinstating the Leffingwell rules seems unlikely. The council agreed to delay for a month beginning the fingerprinting process, but both sides questioned a vote that sidestepped the legal requirements raised by the Ridesharing Works petition.

Kitchen told Adler that while she would support a delay, she had not changed her mind about the fingerprinting requirement.

Kitchen’s outspokenness has prompted residents Tori Moreland and Rachel Kania to organize a political action committee, Austin4All, to circulate a petition to recall Kitchen.

Evidence of the PAC and the petition on the Internet is virtually non-existent. Moreland and Kania, however, have told local reporters they have gathered at least the 4,811 signatures from residents of Kitchen’s Fifth District necessary for the city to hold a recall election.

Officials in the city clerk’s office say they have not been given a petition to recall Kitchen.

Spokeswoman Jennifer Houlihan issued a statement Tuesday saying Ridesharing Works was not part of the recall effort.

“While we disagree with Council Member Kitchen’s effort to impose mandatory fingerprinting and other unnecessary regulations on rideshare drivers, we do not support the recall effort,” Houlihan wrote.


John Bicknell is executive editor of Watchdog.org. He is a veteran editor and has worked in journalism for more than 30 years. He came to Washington in 1999 as an editor at Congressional Quarterly and held several positions at CQ and Roll Call. He is the author of "America 1844: Religious Fervor, Westward Expansion and the Presidential Election That Transformed the Nation." His next book, scheduled to be published in 2017, is on John C. Fremont's 1856 presidential campaign. John also served as senior editor of the 2016 edition of “The Almanac of American Politics.” He can be reached on Twitter @JohnBick1960 and by email at [email protected]