House takes up ride-hail­ing,

Wil­liamson law of­fi­cial: No crimes with ser­vice here.

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Ben Wear bwear@states­man.com Con­tact Ben Wear at 512-445-3698. Twit­ter: @bwear

Uber and Lyft ex­ec­u­tives, as they did in the 2015 ses­sion, have hired more than three dozen lob­by­ists at a cost of at least $1.2 mil­lion to plead the case for statewide reg­u­la­tion of ride-hail­ing ser­vices rather than the “patch­work” sys­tem of lo­cal laws now in place.

Austin Mayor Steve Adler, speak­ing Thurs­day to the House Trans­porta­tion Com­mit­tee as it con­sid­ers House Bill 100 to ban lo­cal reg­u­la­tion of trans­porta­tion net­work com­pa­nies, said the in­ter­ests of the two ride-hail­ing gi­ants would be served by the bill.

“If you’re try­ing to draft a law for a par­tic­u­lar com­pany, this statute might do the job,” Adler said dur­ing a back-and-forth with state Rep. Larry Phillips, R-Sher­man. Phillips had told Adler about the con­ster­na­tion of a fel­low air­line pas­sen­ger ar­riv­ing at Austin-Bergstrom In­ter­na­tional Air­port this week and be­ing told that the app for her pre­ferred ride-hail­ing com­pany wouldn’t work in Austin.

“It wasn’t seen like a pro­gres­sive city at the time,” Phillips said. “It was kind of an em­bar­rass­ing thing for the peo­ple from Austin” on the flight.

Adler noted that “we didn’t ask Uber and Lyft to leave” last year. The com­pa­nies — un­happy with a De­cem­ber 2015 Austin or­di­nance that re­quired fin­ger­print­ing of ride hail­ing driv­ers, that their cars have iden­ti­fy­ing mark­ings of the com­pa­nies, and that there be monthly, de­tailed re­port­ing of rides — turned off their apps in Austin on May 9, two days after Austin vot­ers re­jected a sub­sti­tute or­di­nance the com­pa­nies de­vised.

Other ride-hail­ing startup com­pa­nies have stepped in since. Phillips pointed to a much pub­li­cized sev­eral-hour shut­down of two of those com­pa­nies’ apps last week­end. Adler coun­tered that Uber had ex­pe­ri­enced a sim­i­lar crash dur­ing last year’s Demo­cratic Na­tional Con­ven­tion in Philadel­phia, which he at­tended.

HB 100, car­ried by state Rep. Chris Pad­die, R-Mar­shall, is iden­ti­cal to Se­nate Bill 176 by state Sen. Charles Sch­w­ert­ner, R-Ge­orge­town. That bill, and two oth­ers also tak­ing ride-hail­ing rules statewide, were dis­cussed in a Se­nate com­mit­tee Tues­day and haven’t yet been voted on. The leg­is­la­tion from Pad­die, who un­suc­cess­fully car­ried a ride-hail­ing reg­u­la­tion bill in 2015, has 63 co-spon­sors in the 150-mem­ber House. The trans­porta­tion com­mit­tee didn’t vote on the bill Thurs­day.

The bill wouldn’t re­quire driv­ers to be fin­ger­printed for crim­i­nal back­ground checks, as is man­dated in Austin, Hous­ton and Cor­pus Christi. That stip­u­la­tion, among oth­ers, was crit­i­cal to Uber’s and Lyft’s de­ci­sion to leave in May. Uber still op­er­ates in Hous­ton.

Com­mit­tee mem­bers and some wit­nesses in sup­port of HB 100 were at pains to de­fend Uber’s and Lyft’s method of check­ing prospec­tive driv­ers’ back­ground. The com­pa­nies use third-party com­pa­nies that scan pub­lic records based on ap­pli­cants’ names, dates of birth and So­cial Se­cu­rity num­bers.

“We know that no par­tic­u­lar method is the magic key to pre­vent­ing crime,” said Tim Ryle, chief deputy sher­iff of Wil­liamson County and a for­mer Round Rock po­lice chief. “Our state pris­ons are full of peo­ple who com­mit­ted a new crime but have fin­ger­prints on file. Since Austin passed its or­di­nance, Uber and Lyft have con­tin­ued to op­er­ate up in Wil­liamson County, and we have had no crimes re­ported with their ser­vice.”

Pad­die said the bill is about nur­tur­ing a valu­able ser­vice, not its pri­mary prac­ti­tion­ers.

“This is not a bill about a spe­cific city or spe­cific com­pany,” he said. “This is a bill about cre­at­ing reg­u­la­tory cer­tainty for a grow­ing in­dus­try.”

PHOTOS BY DEB­O­RAH CAN­NON / AMER­I­CAN-STATES­MAN

Austin Mayor Steve Adler, speak­ing Thurs­day to the House Trans­porta­tion Com­mit­tee, said that the city “didn’t ask Uber and Lyft to leave” last year. The com­mit­tee is con­sid­er­ing House Bill 100, which bans lo­cal reg­u­la­tion of trans­porta­tion net­work com­pa­nies. The bill wouldn’t re­quire driv­ers to be fin­ger­printed for crim­i­nal back­ground checks, as is man­dated in Austin, Hous­ton and Cor­pus Christi.

Tim Ryle, chief deputy sher­iff of Wil­liamson County, tes­ti­fies be­fore the com­mit­tee Thurs­day. He pointed out that state pris­ons “are full of peo­ple who com­mit­ted a new crime but have fin­ger­prints on file.”

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