AUSTIN (KXAN) — All of the transportation network companies (TNCs) operating in Austin met the city’s Aug. 1 fingerprinting background check benchmark.
The results were compiled in a memo from Austin Transportation Department (ATD) Director Robert Spillar, who sent the numbers to the mayor and council members on Monday. The benchmark requires companies to have at least 50 percent of its hours or miles driven by fingerprinted drivers.
In the memo, ATD says staff has taken several steps to help companies comply with city code. ATD has been contacting companies to verify their understanding of the city code, providing ordinance checklists, suspending operating authority of companies that didn’t meet monthly data reporting requirements and hosting driver fairs to connect drivers to TNCs licensed in Austin. They also received council approval of a city ordinance that spells out for drivers and companies what criminal offenses could result in denying a person from becoming a driver for a TNC or ground transportation service in Austin.
- 25% compliance by May 1, 2016
- 50% compliance by Aug. 1, 2016
- 85% compliance by Dec. 1, 2016
- 99% compliance by Feb. 1, 2017
“We were very excited, just the fact that everybody is compliant,” Steve Grassfield, with ATD said.
As far as the transportation department is concerned, the process of fingerprinting TNC drivers has been successful, receiving no reports of delays in the process from the nearly 4,000 drivers who applied. Full time Fasten driver Jeff Lopez admit to KXAN the fingerprinting felt a bit redundant in additional to the background checks individual companies already have in place, but said, “It was pretty seamless really, to do it.”
Through the fingerprint background check process and disqualifying convictions the city council laid out in an ordinance that went into effect June 27, the city denied driver certification for 86 people. KXAN asked if those people were already working as TNC drivers before the ATD went back to check records.
“We’re not 100 percent sure that they were on the road,” Grassfield said. “We don’t have that information.”
ATD passed along the names of those who are not permitted to drive in Austin to operating TNCs.
“It does show that there is a concern and should be a concern that we make sure that the drivers, that people getting into the cars are with people that are actually qualifying,” Council Member Sheri Gallo said, speaking about the 86 drivers who were denied certification.
Since Uber and Lyft left, there are now eight TNCs operating in Austin and the transportation department says two more are expected to join in the next month. Lopez says the new landscape creates what he calls a fractured system of drivers, broken up between the numerous companies.
“It does make the wait times a little bit longer,” Lopez said, but expressed how he and other drivers like the control they have in the growing rideshare market.
“One thing people may not realize is how much of an influence the drivers have in deciding which companies are going to make it,” he said. “If we’re not happy, we’re not going to drive for you. It’s as simple as that.”
ATD received approximately 3,771 background check reports since January, from people applying to drive for vehicle-for-hire services.
KXAN reached out to Uber, who responded with a statement, saying, “This report confirms what many in Austin were concerned about all along. Far fewer trips are taking place in Austin today and there are significantly fewer drivers who are able to earn extra money on a flexible schedule. We remain optimistic that we can work with the Mayor and City Council to develop similar TNC regulations to those that have already been adopted by 13 Texas cities and 34 states across the country.”
The company says the 350,000 trips the city reported in July pales in comparison to what Uber alone was doing before it’s exit. That said, Uber wouldn’t provide exact trip numbers, calling the information proprietary.
In a statement, Lyft told KXAN, “We continue to have productive conversations with Austin city leaders. Since Lyft was forced to leave Austin, passengers have seen much longer wait times for rides and drivers have lost an important economic opportunity. People in Austin are simply not better off than they were before May 8.”
Lyft says those conversations include meetings with the mayor, police chief, and third party advocates in Austin.