Austin mayor addresses local vs. state issues, including rideshare regulations

Austin Mayor Steve Adler (KXAN Photo)
Austin Mayor Steve Adler (KXAN Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin Mayor Steve Adler addressed several legislative items that could have an impact on city operations this year.

Austin has been in the national news as of late when the topic of Sanctuary Cities is brought up. Gov. Greg Abbott has already cut grant funding to Travis County due to Sheriff Sally Hernandez’s stance on ICE detainer policies.

“We’ll follow whatever law the legislature passes,” said Adler in an interview with Sally Hernandez on KXAN News Today on the CW Austin, “but at the same time, we don’t know what that law will look like. And I hope the law that does get passed isn’t one that ultimately makes us less safe.”

Earlier this week, the Travis County Sheriff’s Office said they were reviewing their ICE detainer policy and are now considering modifications due to a recent case where the jail initially denied a retainer on an accused child sex abuser.

Adler says he spoke with Sheriff Hernandez about the possible lapse and he still supports her policies. “But we had someone that the sheriff said she wanted to hold. The person was almost released — the person was not released — but that person got a little closer than the sheriff wanted. I understand that she’s fixing her system so that doesn’t happen again.”

Ridesharing is also up for discussion at the state level. Last May, Austinites voted for the city to enforce background fingerprint checks for ridesharing drivers. In November, Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, filed a bill calling for consistent regulations for rideshare companies.

“Mobility and transportation and safety are state issues. And I think it’s important for the state to take action when those issues are negatively affected by local ordinances,” he told KXAN at the time.

“I believe in local control. I believe in citizens going to the polls and saying what they want,” Adler told KXAN. “And what happened because of that, we actually had the first and only true open transportation network company market in the world. And when you have an open market like that, you have competition and innovation.”

There are now eight rideshare companies operating, rather than just Uber and Lyft.

“If you look at the various markets in the state of Texas, it’s pretty apparent which one is the open market which is the one that has had the most companies that have come in,” Adler said.

But KXAN confirmed through the Austin Transportation Department that even with more companies, there are fewer drivers than pre-Prop 1. Kyle Hoskins, who has driven for rideshare companies and was vocal in the Prop 1 debates at city hall, isn’t convinced passengers are safer.

“Increased wait times at 2 a.m., people are standing out on the street. That’s not good for anybody. That increases your chance of assault and everything we tried to prevent,” Hoskins said.

The legislature is expected to take up the bill next month. If passed, it will require national background checks, but not fingerprinting. It would also give passengers the ability to use a single company across city lines.

On Friday afternoon, mayors from all over Texas met to discuss statewide legislative priorities.

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