Texas House OKs statewide ride hailing rules, defying Austin

(KXAN File Photo)
(KXAN File Photo)

AUSTIN (AP/KXAN) — The Texas House has voted to create statewide regulations for ride-hailing companies, potentially voiding a local Austin ordinance that caused Uber and Lyft to stop operating in the state capital.

The bill by Chris Paddie, a Republican from Marshall, brings ride-hailing companies under Texas regulators’ control while requiring them to pay state fees. Paddie’s bill requires annual background checks, but not fingerprinting.

Edward Elizondo would like to pick up Uber passengers in Austin, but he can’t. He switched over to another app.

“Their app still needs a lot of work,’ said Elizondo. He hopes a bill creating statewide rules for ride-sharing passes the legislature.

“If it’s statewide, then that means right now with Uber I can go to San Antonio or Dallas and still leave my app on,” he said.

Trevor Theunissen from Uber Public Affairs says, “We think that transportation inherently crosses jurisdictional boundaries.”

If HB 100 clears the Senate and is signed by the governor, Uber and Lyft will come back to Austin. “This is about cities who do not have access to ride-sharing currently and those who are burdened by some regulations that prevent us from operating, including Austin,” said Theunissen.

“Uber and Lyft could have conformed easily to the rules operating in Austin and operating in Round Rock under their rules and anybody else. They just don’t want to,” said David Butts, who ran the campaign to get transportation network companies to comply with fingerprinting rules in Austin. Austin voters overwhelmingly wanted TNC drivers to have fingerprint background checks. He watched as lawmakers took a step to overturn that vote.

“Their intent is basically ‘we are the city council of Texas, we are going to decide what’s good for you,'” said Butts.

Opponents tried to block the bill using House procedural rules and debate stretched on for hours, but it passed Wednesday 110-37. A final, largely formulaic vote Thursday sends it to the Texas Senate.

The CEO of RideAustin, Andy Tryba, issued a statement stating, “While we respect the State Legislature’s ability to overrule Austin voters, we believe the local Austin community is the best to set local Austin rules.”

Normally new laws go into effect Sept. 1. But if it gets approval from two-thirds of each chamber it takes effect when the governor actually signs it. The bill passed the House by more than two-thirds. So, if the Senate does as well, that’s the difference of Uber and Lyft coming back in May or June, instead of September.

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