AUSTIN (KXAN) — Uber says they could be operating in Austin again either right before the legislative session reconvenes in January, or right after the sessions ends. The company left Austin in May over objections to the city’s fingerprinting requirement.
That’s what Uber’s Public Affairs Lead for Texas, Trevor Theunissen, told KXAN Thursday night before a Q&A in downtown Austin for riders and drivers.
The gathering at The Ginger Man, hosted by KUT, the Austin Monitor and Glasshouse Policy, gave him a chance to address what went wrong, what’s happened since and what the company sees as its future in Austin.
Theunissen, who has been on the job four months, is trying to set a new tone and help the ridesharing company make an Austin comeback.
“We didn’t run Prop One like an Austin campaign,” said Theunissen. “We ran it more like a New York City campaign.”
He said their fight against mandatory fingerprinting for drivers became more about the $10 million Uber was spending on messaging and flooding people with flyers. Theunissen said it took the attention away from the larger good which was creating more rides for people, and getting drunk drivers off the street.
According to Theunissen there are ongoing conversations at city hall, and Uber is willing to negotiate.
“Uber will not operate under mandatory fingerprinting,” said Theunissen. “What we have talked to the city about is whether there’s an optional fingerprinting structure whether that’s something Uber and Lyft and the city could live with.”
It is exactly what they’ve done in San Antonio. After a six month absence, Uber returned after coming to an agreement with the city Uber drivers have the option to get fingerprinted. Through the app, riders are able to tell if a driver has taken the extra step before getting in the car.
On Wednesday, Houston and Uber made a deal for the ridesharing company to operate during the Super Bowl.
In 2014, Theunissen says the Houston city council took their taxi code and regulations and copy and pasted them for ridesharing companies.
From now until the Super Bowl ends, Houston will be relaxing the mandatory fingerprinting requirement for drivers, along with requiring them to wear collared shirts and carrying a fire extinguisher in their car. Uber is also increasing the age limit of a car from seven to ten years to get more drivers behind the wheel.
“The fingerprint requirement is not the end all be all to background checks,” said Theunissen.
He said recent arrests do not show up, and added that Uber checks county courthouse records which reflect more real time arrest records.
Uber is also in favor of statewide ridesharing regulations being proposed at the state capitol this session. Theunissen said with 1,200 cities in the state, it is time consuming for the company to negotiate deals and rules with each one.
If a statewide bill passed, Uber could “turn on the switch” for service across the state with one easy step. But Uber does not want to wait for a state law to take effect.
“We have a real desire to be back in Austin,” said Theunissen. “If we can get the regulations of ridesharing in Austin right, we can take it statewide.”
He is hopeful there is a path forward, but said there is a lot of work to do. When asked about a timeline, Theunissen said Uber could be back before the session or right after.