Ridesharing drivers who fail background checks can now appeal

Woman enters a taxi on Austin's 6th St. (Chris Nelson, KXAN)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Drivers who failed criminal background checks could soon be back on the road, driving you. Austin City Council members signed off on an appeal process Thursday to give drivers from ridesharing companies to taxis and limos a second chance to keep their permits.

Council members voted unanimously in favor of giving drivers seeking or renewing authorization to drive a vehicle for hire the opportunity to appeal a permit denial.

The move gives the transportation director the opportunity to consider:

  1. The nature and gravity of any offenses in the individual’s criminal history
  2. The length of time since the offense and completion of the sentence
  3. The impact of the offenses on the applicant’s ability to perform the duties and discharge the responsibilities of a driver of a ground transportation service vehicle.

Back in June, city council laid out criminal convictions that disqualified applicants applying for a chauffeur’s permit or a renewal, based on whether the applicant had been convicted of certain offenses within the last seven years.

At the time, Council Member Greg Casar says he expressed concerns about what the new ordinance would do drivers who have a proven successful track record, but criminal past. He pushed for the opportunity to uphold an appeal process. On Thursday, city council members learned the ramifications.

“When I came to Austin I was looking for a second chance. And I was afforded that opportunity by being given a chauffeur’s license. Under the rules back then I had to go through a probationary period and I passed that,” driver Michael Pederson said. “Because of the changes to the ordinance, 30 years of work, of living right, it didn’t seem to matter.”

Pederson’s plea to council was echoed by several over drivers who felt years of work to overcome their past were erased when city council passed disqualifying convictions in one foul swoop over the summer.

“I was young, and now I live a different life,” Christopher Bedford told council members, referencing a conviction from 13 years ago. “I feel sure that my service record will speak for itself…people can and do change.”

Bedford started out as a driver for SuperShuttle and for the past six years has worked as an owner and operator, helping to recruit and train other drivers. But when the time came to renew his permit a few months ago, he was denied because of his criminal past.

“I couldn’t sleep last night just not knowing, like this is going to determine whether I have to start over and find something else to do,” Bedford said.

The transportation department told KXAN before the ordinance change this summer, there were no disqualifying convictions. Permit decisions were instead made on a case by case basis.

“People shouldn’t just be judged based on their past but actually on their full potential,” Casar said. “The fact of the matter is, our public safety in this city is based on a lot of people’s opportunity to get jobs and be able to provide for their families. So I think one of the best things we can do for public safety is to create economic opportunity for people.”

Since the beginning of the year, the city has denied nearly 200 chauffeur and TNC driver permits.

  • 41 drivers were rejected based on a 7-year disqualifier
  • 118 drivers were rejected on a permanent disqualifier
  • 38 drivers are awaiting a final disposition on a charge that could either grant them/deny them an opportunity to be permitted