Rideshare drivers will have to undergo fingerprint checks, but not until 2017

FILE - In this March 12, 2014 file photo, Katie Baranyuk gets out of a car driven by Dara Jenkins, a driver for the ride-sharing service Lyft, after getting a ride to downtown Seattle. Seattle may soon become the first city to let drivers of ride-hailing companies such as Uber and Lyft collectively bargain over pay and working conditions. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin’s mayor is offering what’s being called an 11th hour compromise to keep rideshare companies operating in the city, at least for another year. The 9-2 vote was decided on around 1 a.m. Friday after several hours of discussion and comments.

Steve Adler says companies like Uber and Lyft now have until February 2017 to get the majority of their drivers fingerprint-checked. The proposal extends the deadline from the previously set day of Feb. 1, 2016. The city will also be crafting a series of incentives to get full compliance. For example, in the near future, an Uber driver who’s been fingerprinted might be paid a little more than one who hasn’t.

As a result of the confusion around this issue, the mayor and members of the city mobility committee held a last minute news conference earlier Thursday to explain the new proposal.

The members agreed to give ride share companies calendar dates or “benchmarks” this coming year to get an increasing percentage of their drivers fingerprinted.

Fingerprint Benchmarks

  • 25% compliance by May 1, 2016
  • 50% compliance by Aug. 1, 2016
  • 85% compliance by Dec. 1, 2016
  • 99% compliance by Feb. 1, 2017

Council member Ann Kitchen said, “You will see from those benchmarks that they work toward that goal of fingerprinting and they acknowledge there would be incentives and disincentives.”

Another council member, Ellen Troxclair, disagreed with the new compromise: “This is just another way to say that we are implementing mandatory fingerprinting. And the thing that’s frustrating is this is the government saying they know how to run a successful, ride sharing company.”

So how will this play out? San Antonio brought in fingerprint checks last year. Uber left the city as a result, and returned only after city leaders agreed on a compromise. Now, drivers there can volunteer for a fingerprint background check.

Here in Austin, the council agreed to pay for the new fingerprint checks and drivers would get results within 48 hours. Right now, the ride share companies say they do their own, national criminal background checks.

Under the new ordinance, each TNC operating in the city will have to pay an annual fee calculated by the department. The fee will be based on either the total of the permit fee paid by taxicab companies times the number of person driving for the TNC, or 1 percent of the TNC’s annual local gross revenues, or based on total miles driven.

“Lyft will operate in Austin until mandatory fingerprint requirements force us to leave.  In the meantime, we will remain at the table in an effort to create a workable ordinance and preserve the benefits ridesharing brings to visitors and residents. We do not operate in cities that require mandatory fingerprint background checks,” said Chelsea Wilson, Lyft spokesperson.

Other City Council Items of Interest

While Transportation Network Companies is the biggest item on the agenda, there are several other items that might take up some of the council members time.

Approve a resolution relating to expenditure of the Capital Metro ¼ Cent funds

Funding in the amount of $21,735,200.00 is available in the Fiscal Year 2015-2016 Capital Budget of the Public Works Department.

Supporting material in the agenda indicate on Nov. 16, “the Mobility Committee unanimously voted to set the process for determining the ¼ cent infrastructure improvement projects that address district specific and / or citywide priorities for improving mobility as determined by each Council District member and Mayor.”

The draft resolution states that no later than Dec. 31, each City Council member needs to submit a list to the City Manager, Austin Transportation and Public Works Departments, prioritizing infrastructure improvement projects for their district. These projects must of course meet the purposes for the use of the ¼ cent funds. Those funds not designated for projects would be used for citywide projects, prioritized by Mayor Steve Adler.

Creation of Homestead Preservation Districts

City Council will vote to dedicate around $50 million to create four “homestead preservation districts” in East Austin. Taxes raised in the area area would pay for affordable housing ideas. As City leaders told KXAN Wednesday, the hope is that money generated from certain taxes east of Interstate 35 will go back into the community through the new homestead preservation districts to renovate current affordable housing projects, build new affordable housing options, and assist with rent for those who qualify.

Conduct a public hearing and consider an ordinance amending City Code Title 25 related to short-term rental use

In August, September, and October this year, Council initiated amendments to the City Code related to STRs,  and directed the City Manager to bring the amendments to Council within 150 days. For a list of those amendments to what’s already a hot button issue, click here.

Mobile home community zoning decision

As KXAN reported last week, an affordability agreement made between a mobility home community association and its owner, a developer who is looking to expand, aims to provide newfound protection for mobile home owners. The Hidden Valley High Meadows Residents’ Association told KXAN the city’s Zoning and Platting Commission told Scott Roberts a couple months ago, that he needed to establish an agreement with the mobile home tenants before going to Council for zoning approval to move forward on a new property. That agreement, signed less than an hour before Council voted on first reading Thursday, we’re told will help stabilize future rent increases.

Wednesday, the Mayor’s office send out a news release letting reporters know that there will be an on-the-record roundtable Friday afternoon to address the lengthy list of newsworthy topics, also including lobby reform, closing the dark money loophole, and the Regional Wastewater Rule Petition, set to be addressed at today’s Council meeting.

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