Uber, Lyft: We’ll be back in Austin immediately after governor signs bill

Uber stops service in Austin. App shows link to download Uber Eats (KXAN Photo/ Claire Ricke)

AUSTIN (AP/KXAN) — After suspending operations in Austin for more than a year, Uber and Lyft says they plan on coming back once new statewide regulations are in effect.

On Wednesday, the Texas Senate 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 Capitol. Approved 21-9, the bill brings ride-hailing companies under Texas regulatory control and imposes fees.

Initially, the vote was 20-10, but Sen. Van Taylor, R-Plano, went back and voted for the bill so the Senate could have a two-thirds vote, which would allow the law to go into effect immediately once the governor signs it.

A spokesperson for Uber tells KXAN’s Phil Prazan that they will resume operations in Austin immediately after Gov. Greg Abbott signs the bill into law, which he is expected to do when it hits his desk. It’s unclear how quickly the governor will move to sign the bill.

Sen. Schwertner says Abbott will likely sign the bill in the coming days,

A Lyft spokesperson says they will return as soon as the governor signs the bill or as soon as they “are legally allowed to do so.”

House Bill 100 previously cleared the House, which included tea party-backed language defining “sex” as the “physical condition of being male or female.” That’s a reference to the contentious “bathroom bill,” regulating transgender Texans’ public restroom use.

The Senate preserved that. Sponsoring Sen. Charles Schwertner, said, “it’s stating the obvious.”

Uber and Lyft left Austin a year ago, after Austinites voted to require ride-hailing drivers to submit to fingerprinting as part of their background checks. The bill requires annual background checks, but not fingerprinting.

Companies like Ride Austin say if they fall from their 50,000-60,000 riders a week down to less than 20,000 because of this, they will have to shut down. The company is putting out an urgent plea for those who use these services to use local ones. Either way, they are prepared to lose drivers and riders to what they call the “Silicon Valley Giants.”

“I do believe that Uber and Lyft are going to come in with their $12 billion in cash and they are going to try and crush the local nonprofit,” said Andy Tryba, CEO of Ride Austin

Drivers like Adrian Carlo say Uber left a bad taste in their mouth when they left Austin so abruptly last May, leaving him and roughly 10,000 drivers without a job.

“I just don’t think it’s appropriate that they be allowed back under these circumstances. Do I stand to benefit from it? I don’t think it will hurt me. But morally speaking I don’t think they should be allowed back,” Carlo said.

“I’m disappointed that the legislature chose to nullify the bedrock principles of self-governance and limited government by imposing regulations on our city over the objection of Austin voters,” said Austin Mayor Steve Adler. “Our city should be proud of how we filled the gap created when Uber and Lyft left, and we now must hope that they return ready to compete in a way that reflects Austin’s values.”

A spokesperson for Lyft says, “Ridesharing in Texas took a tremendous step forward today. Thank you to Sen. Schwertner and Rep. Paddie for defending consumer choice and all the stakeholders who have helped create safer roads and expand reliable, affordable rides for Texans.”

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