Uber & Lyft Exit Austin Over Background Checks


     AUSTIN, Texas (CN) — Rideshare companies Uber and Lyft have suspended operations in Austin after voters turned down an ordinance to end mandatory fingerprint-based background checks required by the city.
     Lyft gave users the following message Monday morning: “Lyft is not currently available. Due to City Council action, Lyft cannot operate in Austin. Contact your City Council member now to tell them you want Lyft back.”
     Uber also stopped service in Austin but sent an email saying it will “continue to serve surrounding areas,” according to NBC affiliate KXAN.
     Nearly 56 percent of voters rejected Proposition 1 on May 7. The measure would have repealed earlier regulations for transportation network companies passed by the city of Austin in December 2015, and both Uber and Lyft threatened to shut down operations if the measure failed.
     Austin’s regulations require transportation network company drivers to pass a driver-history check and a fingerprint-based criminal background check. The city submits the driver’s fingerprints to the Texas Department of Public Safety, which sends the prints to the FBI for a national criminal history check.
     Ridesharing Works for Austin — a political action committee funded by Uber and Lyft — submitted the 20,000 petition signatures necessary to put the fingerprint check requirement for ride-hailing drivers on a special election ballot.
     Uber and Lyft supported their own name-based background checks on drivers and claimed Austin’s background checks are no better. One-third of taxi drivers who passed the city’s fingerprint based checks failed Uber’s own background checks, according to the Ridesharing Works for Austin Facebook page.
     Uber and Lyft also fought requirements that all drivers must identify their vehicles with specific trade dress and restrictions on where drivers could load and unload passengers.
     The highly contentious campaign led to a backlash by people questioning the ability of corporations to affect local government. An opposing political action committee called Our City, Our Safety, Our Choice said that “public safety is more important than corporate profits.”
     “Uber has told the public that the Austin City Council wants to drive Uber out of Austin. News media say that’s not true,” the group said. “The city just wants to protect public safety with basic rules that no one else has a problem following.”
     Days before the election, a class of Austin cellphone users filed a federal class action against Uber, claiming the company illegally spammed thousands of cellphones with text messages encouraging residents to vote for Prop. 1. The ordinance failed despite an estimated $10 million spent by Ridesharing Works for Austin, according to the Austin Chronicle.
     “While we are disappointed that Prop. 1 did not pass, we are thankful for the support of tens of thousands of Austinites who came together to support safe, reliable transportation,” Ridesharing Works for Austin said in a statement. “Many are counting on us, and we won’t stop fighting to bring ridesharing back to Austin.”
     Austin Mayor Steve Adler said of the measure’s defeat, “Whether or not Uber and Lyft choose to leave town, the city is committed to ensuring that Austinites, both drivers and riders, have transportation and job options including TNC services. We remain open to talking with Lyft and Uber whether they are operating in Austin or not.”

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