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The Almighty Buck Transportation Politics Your Rights Online

City of Austin Locked In Regulations Battle With Uber, Lyft 260

AcidPenguin9873 writes: This past fall, the Austin City Council drafted regulations for ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft requiring drivers to submit to fingerprint-based background checks, similar to other taxi services in Austin. Uber and Lyft threatened to leave the Austin market if the fingerprint-based background checks were passed. After lots of heated public comments and debate from both sides, the fingerprint requirements were passed by the council in December. Shortly thereafter, a PAC called Ridesharing Works for Austin was formed, and, with financial backing from Uber and Lyft, delivered a petition with over 25,000 valid signatures to the City that seeks to remove the fingerprint requirement. According to Austin city code, since the petition had enough valid signatures, the City Council was required to either adopt the language in the petition and remove the fingerprint requirement, or hold a referendum election on the issue. This past Thursday, the council declined to adopt the petition, so Austin voters will go to the polls in May to decide how Uber and Lyft should be regulated.

This case is quite interesting and raises a lot of questions. Uber and Lyft have said that their electronic tracking makes them safer than traditional taxi services, and so they shouldn't be subject to the same regulations. However, some citizens and council members don't like corporations strong-arming local government and effectively writing their own regulations. On the other, one of the council members who introduced the fingerprinting requirement had received campaign donations from at least one local taxi company, leading some to question her motives for introducing the stricter regulations for Uber and Lyft, and even going so far as to start a separate petition campaign to recall that council member. What does Slashdot think Austin should do?
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City of Austin Locked In Regulations Battle With Uber, Lyft

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  • Again... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by cayenne8 ( 626475 ) on Monday February 15, 2016 @11:30AM (#51511133) Homepage Journal
    ...special interests sending money to govt fighting in order to prevent true competition in industry, and squeeze out the new player in town.
    • Re:Again... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Luthair ( 847766 ) on Monday February 15, 2016 @11:35AM (#51511165)
      Sounds more like Uber & Lyft are still pretending they aren't taxi companies and following the existing law.
      • by sycodon ( 149926 )

        Instead of trying to get everyone else to have to abide by the monopolistic, graft and corruption generating Taxi regulations, they should be arguing for the repeal of those laws and allowing them to compete with Uber and Lyft on their own terms.

        • What they really need to do is buy off the regulators (they have more money than taxi companies do now) and make the regulations require *taxi* drivers to have an app available like Uber and Lyft where customers can give real feedback from a smart phone. That is a regulation that makes sense, and actually has a chance at protecting passengers better.

          I say play the regulation game, but force taxis to change. There's no legitimate excuse for taxi companies to not have "apps" at this point, and no legitimate

        • Stop calling the taxi industry monopolistic, unless you can point to any market with only one company. You can't even call it an oligopoly because they didn't come up with the roles they have to follow.
          • Ottawa, Canada has a number of cab companies but they are all owned and dispatched by one parent company.

          • by sycodon ( 149926 )

            It is a Government run monopoly. You have to have a Medallion. The government limits the number of those, creating an artificial scarcity.

            So you can't get into the market because Medallion cost millions in the large market, if they are even for sale.

            • So? I can't start a celphone company either because it would cost millions to set up towers. That's life. Change it if you don't like it.
              • by sycodon ( 149926 )

                But even if you did have a million bucks, you may or may not be able to buy a Medallion because the city limits the number available.

                The government limits the number of those, creating an artificial scarcity.

                No one will stop you from building towers.

                • Oh so I can just plop down a tower wherever I want? I don't have to find some available land that someone is willing to sell or lease to me for that tower? Maybe you don't want rules of land ownership to apply equally to everyone either?
            • To pick a nit, the medallion market is a government run monopoly, but the taxi market is not. Some sort of medallion system is necessary; the system will only begin to self-correct for traffic congestion at the point where it becomes uneconomical to sit in traffic. If your fare is paying per minute as well as per mile, this may never happen, and even if that is not the case, an idling car uses very little gasoline.

              The situation in Panama City is the end-game for Uber. Anyone can drive a taxi, for a modest license fee. The fares are very low and taxicabs are plentiful. So how do you make money? You skimp on maintenance and insurance, jack up your prices for anyone you don't like, and if the person wants to go somewhere congested, either charge them and only take them a couple blocks, or just refuse service entirely. Also, because of the iron laws of competition, the price of the service is going to be driven down to the lowest amount that will keep the car and driver on the road. If you want to introduce this to America, keep in mind that it's not going to be Uber's fault if their drivers don't make minimum wage and congestion goes wild.

      • Sounds more like Uber & Lyft are still pretending they aren't taxi companies and following the existing law.

        I love the hailing/billing concept of Uber, but they consistently have a problem following the law. At this point they've pulled out of several smaller cities that require police background checks, so I'm not shocked in the slightest that it's the same thing going on here.

        Which is a damn shame, because if Uber could just follow the law we could have a great alternative Taxi service that is safer a

        • if Uber could just follow the law we could have a great alternative Taxi service that is safer and fully legal as well. That they're so inflexible and forceful frustrates me to no end.

          They're inflexible and forceful because their business plan doesn't work if they have to follow all of the existing laws and regulations. So, like AirBnB, they have decided that since their new and cool and different, that all of the existing laws don't apply to them.

      • by Dan667 ( 564390 )
        Are you sure you understand what is going on in Austin? Public transportation is terrible in the city after decades of squabbling over a "perfect" plan instead of making any kind of reasonable progress. Meanwhile, taxis are purposely limited to maximize profits for the taxi companies. So uber and lyft come in an offer a service that is desperately needed from the failure of Austin and Texas government and other options like taxis and drunk driving falls 20%+ according to the Country Sheriff. uber and ly
        • Re:Again... (Score:4, Informative)

          by stabiesoft ( 733417 ) on Monday February 15, 2016 @02:39PM (#51512869) Homepage

          Except drunk driving accidents and fatalities were up in austin in 2015. Yep that is right, they were up AFTER uber and lyft. And I was also not happy to find out that uber lyft paid people 20 bucks an hour to collect all those signatures. Most people will sign a petition if asked, but getting people to volunteer to collect them is not so easy. I'd like to see uber/lyft foot the bill for the special election they caused. These elections cost taxpayers a few 100K. I know I am voting no to them. Another uber like firm has already said they would do background checks for their drivers. So if this other firm can do it why can't uber?

      • by Kohath ( 38547 )

        Why should they? Arresting people for giving each other car rides isn't legitimate government, it's racketeering [wikipedia.org].

    • by sycodon ( 149926 )

      Ann Kitchen [austintexas.gov] has been in the tank for the local Cab industry since the beginning.

      While the Austin City Council recently went to a district council organization (unlike the previous all At Large), and the more sensible suburbs now have representation, there are are still enough whacked out, loony Leftists left to keep this kind of crap front and center.

      Example: they recently had a Bond election for urban rail, light rail, some kind of stupid rail system designed to benefit the core of the city, to the tune o

    • Both the local taxi companies and Uber/Lyft are special interests. If the fingerprinting requirement existed before Uber/Lyft entered the market then they need to abide by it. Just because "new" doesn't mean they get to play by a different set of rules.

  • Minor, one-time cost (Score:5, Interesting)

    by JoshuaZ ( 1134087 ) on Monday February 15, 2016 @11:34AM (#51511153) Homepage
    Fingerprinting is a minor, one-time upfront cost, so it isn't an unreasonable regulation. This isn't like say forcing Uber and Lyft to obey specific payment rules, or requiring medallions that are restricted to a certain number. I'm not sure in general that such fingerprinting is a useful, cost-effective requirement for any taxi type, whether traditional or not, but it doesn't appear to be a rule that only makes sense if one is trying to harm Uber.
    • by sycodon ( 149926 )

      The thing about Government regulations is that it

      1. Gives government control.
      2. A false sense of security.

      If the government says you have to do this or that and have it certified by them, then they have ultimate power over you. All you need to do is witness Lois Lerner to see how that kind of power can be wielded.

    • by dfghjk ( 711126 )

      Fingerprinting is not minor. It is an unjustified authorization to create database information that the government would not otherwise have. It is irrelevant how easy or cheap it is to perform.

    • Agree... it kind of makes you wonder who Uber is trying to protect.
    • by tlambert ( 566799 ) on Monday February 15, 2016 @02:26PM (#51512739)

      Fingerprinting is a minor, one-time upfront cost, so it isn't an unreasonable regulation.

      The cost is hidden.

      Unless they destroy the collected fingerprints when the answer is "no", instead of databasing them.

      Otherwise, they should just do a DNA swab, and compare it to both solved and unsolved cases, right?

  • by The-Ixian ( 168184 ) on Monday February 15, 2016 @11:34AM (#51511157)

    Uber and Lyft will need to make a hardline statement sooner or later.

    They should just pull out and let the people's outcry (or lack of one) be heard.

    The services are either too scared that their wouldn't be an outcry or they're just too greedy to give up revenue in one market.

    • They're doing their best to manufacture outrage - that's for sure. They seem to want people to believe that Austin in banning them, when really, they're threatening to leave if they have to deal with this requirement. (A requirement that even applies to a pedicab driver in Austin. Along with a limo driver, taxi driver, etc.)

      Houston also has the same fingerprinting requirements. Uber threatened to leave, as did Lyft. In the end, Uber stayed...even with the fingerprinting requirements.

      They're playing Aus

    • The services are either too scared that their wouldn't be an outcry or they're just too greedy to give up revenue in one market.

      Or both.

    • They'd have a hard time pulling out of Austin. With as dense and busy as the downtown area is, combined with precious little parking at stupidly high prices, those drivers stay damned busy on weekends. Revenue is probably the bigger part.

      I think it's corporations being crybabies about legislation that means they get $0.9995 instead of a dollar.
  • by WoodstockJeff ( 568111 ) on Monday February 15, 2016 @11:36AM (#51511171) Homepage

    If the existing taxi drivers are required to have the fingerprints and background checks, Uber and Lyft drivers should have them, too.

    If the existing taxi drivers are NOT required to have the checks, then making Uber and Lyft drivers do it is discriminatory.

    • by grag ( 597728 ) on Monday February 15, 2016 @11:41AM (#51511193)
      Cab drivers, pedicabbers, and horse carriage drivers in Austin are required to have fingerprint background checks.
    • by jasenj1 ( 575309 )

      And this is exactly the issue. Uber & Lyft offer a service that currently has certain regulations, but they don't want to be bound by the existing regulations because they are "different". Same issue with Homeaway, Airbnb, VRBO, etc.

      The government has a interest in assuring that people offering a service meet some level of licensing, in theory proving they have some level of training and standard practices to ensure customers (citizens) are not subject to undue risk. But Uber & Lyft don't want to pl

    • by sycodon ( 149926 )

      The existing system was established to protect the existing Taxi industry from competition and increase government revenue.

      It is a protection racket, run by the government.

      • The existing system was established to protect the existing Taxi industry from competition and increase government revenue. It is a protection racket, run by the government.

        Way to unilaterally declare something without assessing the actual regulation being debated. Government regulation == bad in your mind?. There are at times where regulation is necessary. In this case, the regulation that all taxi cab driver must be fingerprinted was designed to protect the public. Since taxis serve the public there are a number of regulations that are in place for public safety. For example another regulation is that taxis (and other public transportation) must have a working fire extingu

      • Name one rule that applies to taxi's that doesn't protect the other users of the roads, customers, or drivers in some way. Fingerprints? Protecting customers from crime. Limited licenses available? Protecting other drivers from clogged roads and keeping driving reasonable and safe. Requirement for handicapped vehicles? Protecting the physically challenged. Requirement for presence at airports, hotels? Ensures there are no fights in the street over passengers. The list goes on.
        • Limited licenses available? Protecting other drivers from clogged roads and keeping driving reasonable and safe.

          Try: "Keeping availability low in an area with poor public transport, guaranteeing higher prices and shutting out any possibility of competition"

          • If you think that is the reason behind it, please site your source.
            • by sycodon ( 149926 )

              So, what is the reason for limiting competition?

              • They haven't limited competition, they have limited the number of cars on the roads. Before there was a limit to the number of cars on the roads, there was no room for people in their own cars. In most cities, there isn't enough room as it is.
                • by sycodon ( 149926 )

                  What bullshit.

                  Do they limit how many cars people can brig into the city? Nope.

                  • Apples to oranges. You're talking about comparing someone driving a car as a business to someone driving a personal vehicle. In a way personal vehicles are moderated by parking prices, available spots, toll booths, etc.
        • by sycodon ( 149926 )

          Your company has to have a Medallion to operate.

          • Protects other users of the roadways from congestion and unsafe roads. I mentioned that.
            • by sycodon ( 149926 )

              Stupid and Lame. In fact, that is the dumbest comment I've read in a long time. Have you even fucking driven in a large city recently? Holy shit that's stupid.

              It would drive the prices down and the Taxi companies can't have that. That's the only reason.

              • Again, come back when you have some proof to back that up. You aren't even bothering to say why it's stupid, because I think you don't even know. I know in the ciry I live in, it would be better if there were less cars on the road, not more.
        • Name one rule that applies to taxi's

          How about the one where if there's an s, there has to be an apostrophe before it?

    • by Toad-san ( 64810 )

      Agreed. Although it makes you wonder why Uber and Lyft are fighting this fingerprint and background check thing so desperately.

    • If the existing taxi drivers are required to have the fingerprints and background checks, Uber and Lyft drivers should have them, too.

      If the existing taxi drivers are NOT required to have the checks, then making Uber and Lyft drivers do it is discriminatory.

      So should anyone who drives a car pool, and every soccer mom who drives a van, right?

      Because, just like Uber and Lyft, these people drive people with whom they are not very familiar, and vice versa, and, just like Uber and Lyft, they are not taxi cabs.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 15, 2016 @11:37AM (#51511181)

    Uber and Lyft are fucking taxi services, and they're doing their best to make a shitty job shittier.

  • by known_coward_69 ( 4151743 ) on Monday February 15, 2016 @11:44AM (#51511205)
    i'm older than dirt but over the last 30 years there is a background check for everything and if you screwed up in youth it's virtually impossible to get a good job later in life. even lower end jobs for someone coming out of jail to earn a living WTF is someone supposed to do other than go back to jail?
    • by Luthair ( 847766 )
      We don't really know what would be a red flag here though. I mean, if you used to drive a cab and robbed & raped passengers seems reasonable you wouldn't be allowed to drive again.
    • by godrik ( 1287354 )

      So I have no idea how these things work in the US. But it seems reasonable to run a background check and then decide based on the outcome of that check, eventually talking again with the prospective employee.

      Now if the decision is made automatically "there is something in your criminal record => sorry" then it is ridiculous. But "You drove drunk and cause 10 people to die => sorry you won't drive my taxi" seems fine; while "You peed at 3am => no taxi" is unreasonable.

      • So I have no idea how these things work in the US.

        Is this because you live in a European country with a "right to be forgotten"?

    • In California (not sure about the rest of the country), you cannot perform a background check on someone until their first day of work, and you can only discriminate based on offenses that would be relevant to the job. It isn't perfect, but it at least provides a fairly high barrier.

  • Paradise (Score:2, Funny)

    by sphealey ( 2855 )

    = = = owever, some citizens and council members don't like corporations strong-arming local government and effectively writing their own regulations. = = =

    But... but... but... that's the libertarian paradise that's always been dreamt of, no? The Dagney Tagger Dollar Sign, ruling over (erasing really) any concept of 'we the People'?

    sPh

  • by mynametaken ( 412791 ) on Monday February 15, 2016 @11:48AM (#51511235)

    An article came out this weekend in Austin that shows the city only requires taxi background checks in one state, Texas, unless the driver lived somewhere else in the last 3 years in which case that state is also checked. Uber and Lyft look at all 50 states. Also, the city does not restrict convicted murderers or sex offenders from getting a taxi license while Uber and Lyft do:

    http://www.mystatesman.com/news/news/local/austin-screening-of-taxi-drivers-far-from-airtight/nqPwW/

    8 taxi drivers were accused of sexual assault in 2014 in Austin. The data does not show that fingerprinting is effective and in many cases leads to false positives and false negatives. This isn't about a level playing field as that article shows the taxi industry background checks in Austin are much less comprehensive than Uber and Lyft.

  • Can we please not have a /. story every time Uber farts? None of these stories are 'news for nerds', and I really don't come here to read about taxi regulations and the inevitable flamewars thereabouts.

    • Then don't come here. You certainly don't need to read a story you're not interested in, never mind commenting on it.

      This isn't "News for hackertourist" We all have different interests.

  • Pretty obvious, let the people of Austin decide, and if Uber doesn't like the results, screw 'em. Some local guy can start up a similar service.

    • So what you're saying is that the city should fuck off and let them operate, and if people use them, then they should be permitted to continue? I like this idea. That's the way the people choose, not through some bogus government comment process which will be manipulated by the entrenched commercial interests.

  • by Matt_Bennett ( 79107 ) on Monday February 15, 2016 @12:09PM (#51511395) Homepage Journal

    I think the idea of Uber & Lyft are great- but I really wish they would stop calling it "Ride Sharing" as it totally misrepresents what it is. It's selling! Sharing implies "I was going in the same direction, and I could give you a ride, and I'll split the cost with you." Of course this is what Uber and Lyft want people to think they do.

  • by mr_mischief ( 456295 ) on Monday February 15, 2016 @12:43PM (#51511673) Journal

    Austin is a city. I say let Austin do what's right for Austin. They have a system to elect their council and a system to refer disagreements to the voters. That system is at work here.

    I live a few hours from Austin. My (much larger) city has certain regulations on who's allowed to drive, too. It's a minor inconvenience to start driving and again every two years. It involves a background check including fingerprinting, a five-panel drug screening, a warrant check, and a vehicle inspection (including having a fire extinguisher within arm's reach of the driver). [driveuberhouston.com] It's much, much less restrictive than being licensed to be a Houston taxi driver [texasmonthly.com]. From the link:

    In theory, anyone can drive a cab. To get a license in Houston, you must have a valid Texas driver’s license, pass a written test to show you know twenty popular addresses, take a simple physical exam, and be free of warrants within the city. But practically speaking, you also need a medallion, the permit that allows the operation of one vehicle, and that is harder to come by. The city charges a $400 nonrefundable fee when you apply for one or more medallions. Applications are accepted only in even-numbered years, and not every application is approved, because the streets can handle only so much taxi traffic. Medallions can be resold or leased after a short waiting period, and they bring as much as $10,000 apiece on the gray market from independent drivers who have given up hope of obtaining one from the city

    I'm not familiar with the exact regulations for a taxi driver in Austin, but I'd bet Uber and Lyft are complaining about their drivers only having to do part of what's required for a taxi driver there.

    Let Austin worry about it. It's Austin's regulation for Austin's people. Now that it's going to a referendum the truest form of democracy you're likely to see on such a scale will take care of it in a locally agreeable way.

    • Don't Expect (Score:5, Interesting)

      by sycodon ( 149926 ) on Monday February 15, 2016 @12:56PM (#51511767)

      Don't expect the Austin City COuncil to abide by the election results. the have a history of ignoring the voters and doing what they want through other, more expensive means.

      Don't be fooled.This is not about Safety. It's about control and city revenue. What the story doesn't mention (ir buries deeply) is that with this regulation, the city wanted 1% of revenues to supposedly pay or the finger printing.

      • by sycodon ( 149926 )

        Regarding spelling and grammar. Don't drink and post.

        This is a Public Service Announcement.

  • by frank_adrian314159 ( 469671 ) on Monday February 15, 2016 @01:11PM (#51511911) Homepage

    Don't give Uber what it wants. Not because it's Uber (which would be a good enough reason in itself), but because history has shown whenever governmental entities deal with corporate entities, the corporation usually comes out on top. It's not that government is stupid - it's just that corporations have a lot more time to concentrate on how to take advantage than government does.

  • So we've got some politicians in the pocket of one camp, and others in the pocket of a different camp. The law is written so that when there is sufficient public interest, the issue goes to a vote, providing a timely and final route forward.

    Is that a problem?

  • If anyone doesn't like the way government operates, they have a full right and duty to engage in the process and change things. Let Uber change the rules unilaterally and not only are you decreasing the investment made by taxi drivers in their trade, but you also have to let any company change the rules as they see fit. Now you have builders who can use substandard materials and you get building collapses like they do in India. Now the companies trying to sell you v1agr4 have a legal right to operate. G
    • decreasing the investment made by taxi drivers in their trade

      I don't give a shit about protecting their investment in their trade. There are no regulations aimed at protecting my investment in my trade. Cabbies in South Florida are indolent scumbags who jacked up fares and showed up when they want to. I once had to wait over 2 hours at 2 AM for a ride, and had to walk home at 4, resulting in severe injury to my foot. The fact that the owner of the local cab company had been bribing county commissioners for

      • "There are no regulations aimed at protecting my investment in my trade."
        That doesn't matter. If you wanted to be protected by regulation you had every opportunity to go into a regulated industry. You didn't, so you can't really complain.

        "Regulations limiting number of cabs on the road in regions that don't have sufficient public transportation are not intended to do anything at all other than keep those obscene profit margins for the Cab OWNERS sky high."
        Again, where the frick are you hearing this fr

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