Austin Gives Temporary Green Light to Uber, Lyft


     AUSTIN (CN) – In a 6-1 vote, the Austin City Council gave preliminary approval to ridesharing operators Uber and Lyft to legally operate within the city.
     Deemed by the council to be “transportation network companies,” Uber and Lyft launched their services in Austin without city approval in May.
     If the temporary operating agreement survives two more votes by the city council, Austin would become the second city in Texas to legalize the ridesharing operators. Houston approved similar regulations in August, while Dallas city officials are expected to soon vote on similar rules as well.
     Ed Kargbo, president of Yellow Cab, opposed the measure at the September 25 city council meeting. He said it was “insufficient,” and alleged the rideshare services are running afoul with airports elsewhere.
     “Nowhere in this proposal does it mention anything about potential service to Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. In this day of heightened alerts about national security, I know the FAA has rules regarding transportation service providers and their access to the airport,” he told the council. “I know every other transportation service provider pays a fee that funds the great work done by the airport ground transportation service team, among other things.
     “This proposal doesn’t even take into consideration that every major airport in California has complained about the illegal airport operations of [transportation network companies] and that the body that attempts to regulate them in California asked them to stop and they have not discontinued service to the airports in California,” Kargbo said.
     Uber public policy manager Chris Johnson told the council the company was in support of the ordinance.
     “We understand that this council has been grappling with major issues around DUI and congestion in this city and we believe our services can provide a helpful solution to those issues,” he said. “Already the cities of Chicago, Houston, New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Tulsa, and many others are passing ordinances as we speak to create a new regulatory framework for this new type of business. That’s what we are here for tonight.”
     Uber’s core business is safety, Johnson said, citing the company’s “very stringent background checks” and “first class insurance.”
     Lyft representative April Mims told the council the company supports the ordinance because it wants to show city leaders “what the people of Austin have already figured out.”
     “Lyft is providing [the] safest … consumer-friendly platform in this industry,” she said. “Our criminal background checks are authorized by SterlingBackCheck, which is the national provider of background checks used by many city governments to screen people. We also provide driver record checks and $1 million in commercial insurance, GPS tracking and a user rating system to make transportation safer.”
     Both Uber and Lyft have come under heavy fire from traditional taxi cab operators as they break into new markets across the country.
     Cabbies in Houston and San Antonio sued the services in federal court in April, accusing the “unlicensed services” of “skimming only the profitable trips.”
     Cabbies in Connecticut sued the services in May in federal court, claiming they violate public transportation laws to run “a fleet of gypsy cabs.”
     Uber and Lyft have also faced claims from the disabled who say their vehicles-for-hire do not provide wheelchair access for disabled riders.
     Attendees of the city council meeting expressed similar concerns. Kemi Yemi-Ese, of Austin, asked the council to insure the companies provide “transportation options for people with disabilities.”
     “If someone in my position were unable to use METROlift, they would go and ask for a cab from Yellow Cab for services, but with a limited amount of joy cabs that [are] wheelchair-accessible, I’m left to either ask friends for help, or just not go to work or attend services as I’m used to doing,” she said. “But if there are services like Uber and Lyft … [and] they provide accessible vehicles, then I’m given the opportunity to still go about my day just like any able-bodied person would. I wanted to urge the council to understand that people with disabilities also have a voice in the issue and we appreciate your time.”

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