Ridesharing petition garners more than 65,000 signatures

Austin leader sign a ridesharing restriciton petition.

AUSTIN (KXAN) — A grassroots effort to garner enough signatures to potentially challenge the new ridesharing rules passed by the Austin City Council last year, has met its goal.

When Ridesharing Works launched in December, the group’s goal was to collect 30,000 signatures; approximately 20,000 signatures are needed for the council to consider their campaign. As of Tuesday morning, the group says its collected a total of 65,103 petition signatures.

“It shows a new political force has emerged in Austin,” says TechNet Executive Director Caroline Joiner. “Over the last 12 days, we averaged 3,100 signatures a day. We collected more signatures than votes received by any mayor ever elected to Austin.” The group delivered the signatures to the city clerk at 9 a.m. for verification.

Ridesharing Works gained support from the leaders in the local music and entertainment scene along with ATX Safer Streets and TechNet. Over the past several weeks, paid employees and volunteers have blanketed the city to get signatures at restaurants, bars, sidewalks and everywhere inbetween.

The group’s goal is to have the council pass a new ordinance (which does not include a fingerprint background check), or put the measure on the May ballot and let the voters decide. Now that the group has the signatures, it is up to the council to determine which route it wants to take.

“At the end of the day, leadership is crafting the best solution for the City of Austin and its citizens. Today we have a mandate for compromise and collaboration,” says Austin Music People Executive Director Jennifer Houlihan.

In December, the council voted 9-2 to implement new rules for Transportation Network Companies (TNCs). Mayor 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.

“We have two competing goals in this city that should not be competing against one another: it is real important to have rideshare companies operating in scale,” said Austin Mayor Steve Adler at a press conference on Tuesday. “I think Uber and Lyft contribute to the safety our community because they take drunk drivers off the road at the same time there is concern about safety in this city. The DPS and Police Chief says fingerprinting to background search also contributes to safety in our city.”

Adler wouldn’t say whether he would want to see council adopt a substitute ordinance or let voters decide. He did suggest that he wants some sort of compromise — a system that would be run by a third-party that would verify security checks.

“You could call it a compromise, a different way to approach the problem but it is a different way of looking at it,” said Adler.

The mayor is possibly suggesting removing mandatory background checks and making it a system where drivers voluntarily get fingerprinted.  If they do, it would be a “badge” labeled on the car or app which would let the passenger verify if the driver meets their security standards.

“We are in a peer-to-peer economy, in so many different ways,” said Adler.  “It’s not just happening in ridesharing, it’s AirBNB, there are lots of platforms now in ever increasing degree where people don’t know each other and directly involved with others who don’t know each other.”

History as a guide

According to a city spokesperson, the last petition that gathered the required number of signatures was the petition in support of the 10-1 geographic council representation in 2012. That petition led to the current city council system. The charter amendment went to voters, along with an alternative proposal from city council.

Peck Young, who was a consultant for supporters of the 10-1 system, said it took months to gather the signatures. At a news conference in 2012, those supporters held signs showing they had 33,000 signatures.

“[The ability to gather 65,000 signatures for the new petition is] impressive, especially how fast they did it,” said Young.

However, Mayor Adler said the similarities between the two petitions have their limits.

“[The 10-1 case] was a charter election and the council has the ability legally to post things on a charter election,” Adler said. “This is an ordinance.”

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