Uber Agrees to Stay in Houston Through Super Bowl

HOUSTON (CN) – Uber and Houston announced a deal Wednesday to keep the ride-hailing service in town at least through the Super Bowl in February, despite Uber’s opposition to a city requirement that its drivers get fingerprint-background checks.

Under the deal, the city will change its law that regulates vehicles-for-hire, cutting its driver-licensing fees from $200 to $70 and allowing drivers to complete the licensing process in less than 20 minutes.

Uber has had a tenuous relationship with Houston since it came to town in February 2014, chafing against regulations that took effect in November 2014 requiring all Uber drivers to get background checks that include fingerprints.

The ride-hailing company prefers the name-based background checks it runs on prospective drivers and claims the city’s method is no more effective.

Super Bowl LI will be played on Feb. 5, 2017, at NRG Stadium. The Greater Houston Convention & Visitors Bureau estimates the Super Bowl LIVE festival, which will take place over 10 days leading up to the game over 35 downtown city blocks, will draw more than 1 million visitors.

The Super Bowl and all the business it will bring for taxis and ride-sharing companies was the impetus for the deal, but Uber refused to commit to staying in the city after the big game.

“For the past few months, we have worked in good faith with Mayor [Sylvester] Turner to come to a compromise that would allow us to stay for the Super Bowl. Uber fully intends to continue operating through the Super Bowl under the city’s proposed licensing changes,” Sarfraz Maredia, general manager of Uber (Texas) said in a statement.

Houston isn’t the only major Texas city to push back against Uber’s preferred background-check process.

Uber suspended its operations in Austin in May after voters rejected a proposed ordinance that would have ended regulations forcing drivers to pass a driver-history check and a fingerprint-based criminal background check.

Mayor Turner touted the Houston deal, despite the uncertainty of Uber’s future in the city.

“I am thrilled we can finally put this issue to rest and focus on the real task at hand, providing a great Super Bowl experience that shows off our city,” Turner said in a statement Wednesday.

Turner also announced the launch of Arro, the city’s official transportation app, which will help more than 9,000 taxi and limo drivers connect with clients.