Austin looks into support for new ride-hailing companies

FILE - Austin traffic (KXAN File Photo)
FILE - Austin traffic (KXAN File Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — After Uber and Lyft left town, city council is looking to support new companies.

A resolution passed Thursday asks the city manager to look into how the city’s economic development department can help new ride-hailing businesses.

“When Uber and Lyft left, they left a gap in an already mobility-challenged city,” said Mayor Steve Adler.

The resolution met opposition from Council Member Ellen Troxclair.

“The city is in the business, at this point, of picking winners and losers,” said Troxclair.

The resolution mentions city loan programs and other support before instructing the city manager to “provide [Transportation Network Companies] with a menu of economic development resources for which TNCs that may be interested in expanding operations to meet the existing demand in the Austin area might be eligible.”

Troxclair does not believe new TNCs should be eligible for funds if they are not following the city’s current fingerprinting and data rules that were the subject of the recent election. Uber and Lyft say they left over Austin regulations including a fingerprinting requirement. The current city ordinance does not include penalties for not meeting that provision.

“We need to finish that work. We need to decide how we get to the goals that we set,” said Adler. “That’s going to involve a community conversation. Hopefully a conversation including the TNCs that are operating in the community. But I don’t think it should be something that any one council member just brings by way of an amendment to impose a regulatory structure.”

Troxclair had proposed an amendment to require compliance with the city’s transportation rules before companies could get assistance from city resources. However, the mayor ruled the proposal was not germane

She believes taxpayer dollars are already being spent to support new companies.

“If you look at the job fair that was held… this week that took three days of city staff time and resources. Those people are paid by the taxpayers,” Troxclair said.

One possible option for new transportation companies could be micro loans through the Family Business Loan Program, a program mentioned in the recently-passed resolution. A loan officer for the city says those loans are for a maximum of $35,000 and are for startup companies or companies with at least six months to a year of experience. Other criteria also apply, including financially qualifying for the loan.

A city spokesperson says the Family Business Loan Program has a budget of $1,000,000 for fiscal year 2016. The loan program is a public-private partnership. The city administers federal funds and local bank lenders also assist. The city spokesperson says no city funds are used for that program.

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