After a two and a half hour long debate, the Austin City Council voted Thursday to create an incentive-based program that rewards Uber and Lyft drivers who get a voluntary fingerprint background check. The ordinance was approved on a 7-4 vote with Council Members Delia Garza, Ora Houston, Ellen Troxclair and Don Zimmerman voting against the ordinance.
Drivers who submit to the voluntary checks and pass will get incentives such as fee waivers, better parking and the ability to drop off riders closer to major events. Adler also wants to create a badge that will be displayed on the Uber and Lyft apps, indicating which drivers participate in the program. The ordinance actually applies to "peer-to-peer" enterprises which means taxi and limo drivers are also eligible to participate, but it should be noted, those drivers already have to get fingerprint background checks to obtain their licenses.
To jump start the program, the city offered free fingerprinting to all drivers at City Hall on Thursday and demoed a kiosk program that would provide checks digitally.
The program voted upon at this point is voluntary, but in February that could change as the Austin City Council is set to vote on whether or not to institute mandatory background checks on all drivers a move that companies such as Uber and Lyft had said they would leave Austin if implemented. In cities such as Houston and San Antonio similar measures have been taken resulting in different outcomes. In San Antonio Uber ceased operations for a year before returning in 2016 and in Houston the ridesharing companies continued on despite new city ordinances. The new incentive the city has laid out in Austin will take effect on Feb. 8th and they are hoping to achieve full participation by 2017.
Another vote that has raised a lot of controversy is whether or not Short Term Rentals (STR's) will be restricted by the city based on neighborhood complaints on noise and rowdy behavior by renters. Austin residents who rent, investors and home grown companies such as HomeAway are staunchly against the new proposed measure and the debate that was supposed to be settled yesterday went on until 2 a.m. and was finally pushed to be decided sometime in Feb.
Some information courtesy of Austin City Council and KVUE News